What saved 62 backpackers in Bundy inferno

 

DOZENS of tourists have escaped uninjured with just the clothes on their backs after a dramatic blaze broke out inside a Central Queensland backpackers late on Monday night.

The scenes were eerily similar to the tragedy that claimed the lives of 15 people in Childers just over 20 years ago.

Childers survivor shocked by 'mirror image' Bundy inferno

The Spotted Dog Tavern and Federal Backpackers - which has stood in the same location in Bundaberg's CBD for over the past 100 years - were completely destroyed in a horrific inferno that tore through the buildings just after 11pm.

Crews battle the fierce blaze at the Spotted Dog and Federal Backpackers.
Crews battle the fierce blaze at the Spotted Dog and Federal Backpackers.


Although a tragedy to lose the heritage listed building that had housed the 62 backpackers, according to Superintendent Jeff Keating of the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services, it was a combination of luck, planning and adequate fire legislation that ensured the travellers inside Federal Backpackers made it out completely uninjured.

It was a night that felt all too similar to June 23, 2000, when the Childers Palace Backpackers was set alight.

"The legislative changes because of the Childers fire mean people are more aware of what their exit plan is and the staff are aware of what their roles and responsibilities are," Superintendent Keating said.

"One difference between Bundaberg and Childers is the type of alarm system.

"The system that was set up in the Bundaberg premise was required through legislation for short term temporary accommodation.

"It was an automatic alarm system that could sense smoke in the air, and it also had sound to alert people."

The Federal Hotel goes up in flames.
The Federal Hotel goes up in flames.

Superintendent Keating said after the alarm was activated, a message got sent directly to the fire communications centre who were able to dispatch crews - 40 fire fighters arriving on scene within minutes.

Findings from coronial inquest into the Palace Backpackers Hostel Fire concluded that "the loss of life (in the Childers fire) could have been significantly reduced with adequate, properly maintained fire safety features such as operative warning systems," and that if adequate warning systems were in place, "they would have enabled occupants to make their way to a place of safety."

Superintendent Keating agreed.

"It's a no-brainer that everything added up to those people getting out of that building very quickly," he said.

"The Federal Backpackers in recent times have installed an external evacuation staircase which gave access from each floor to the outside of the building and had a huge bit to do with everybody getting out safely and efficiently."

Fire crews battle a blaze that destroys the Spotted Dog and the Federal Backpackers.
Fire crews battle a blaze that destroys the Spotted Dog and the Federal Backpackers.

It's understood the backpackers from Monday night's blaze have been taken to the nearby Cherri Backpackers.

"They lost their valuables but they all got out alive, each and every one of them. It's amazing," Superintendent Keating said.

"Plenty of those people have lost their possessions as well, their clothes, their phones, their wallets, their passports - everything."

Fire investigators will on Wednesday attempt to gain access into the building to determine the cause of the inferno and assess the damage.

After the fierce blaze that damaged the Spotted Dog and Federal Backpackers, Bundaberg. Picture: Supplied, QFES
After the fierce blaze that damaged the Spotted Dog and Federal Backpackers, Bundaberg. Picture: Supplied, QFES


Just over one month ago, Federal Backpackers took to Facebook to remember the 15 victims from the Palace Backpackers tragedy, posting a photo of the victims, alongside a message of support: "our thoughts are with the survivors and families."

On Tuesday they acknowledged just how fortunate they were that history had not repeated itself, when they praised their quick thinking and well trained staff- and importantly, thanked the backpackers themselves.

"Without your co-operation and prompt evacuation, things could have been a lot worse."

A GoFundMe page has been set up to raise funds for the backpackers affected.

Originally published as What saved 62 backpackers in Bundy inferno