A local conservation action group fears a massive fire that has burned through more than half of K’gari-Fraser Island will devastate its heritage-listed landscape and wildlife.
Threat levels were eased to watch and act and an emergency declaration was revoked on Tuesday morning after much-needed rain overnight, with the settlement of Happy Valley narrowly escaping the flames.
But Peter Shooter, president of the Fraser Island Defenders Organisation – a community-based organisation that seeks to protect the island’s natural resources – warned the consequences of the fire, which has been burning since 14 October, would be considerable.
“K’gari is an island with vegetation types that traditionally do burn and recover from burning,” he said on Tuesday.
“But this fire has been of such a magnitude and duration that the impact is really concerning. There has never been a recorded fire of this type on K’gari.”
Located off Queensland’s south-east coast, K’gari-Fraser Island is the world’s largest sand island, at 123 kilometres long, and listed as a World Heritage Area due to its unique ecosystems.
Among them are significant rainforests, which Mr Shooter said were of significant concern for the group as they do not respond well to bushfires.
He also warned that the island’s large populations of small marsupials, reptiles, birds, and insects would have been “massively impacted”.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has ordered a full review into the preparedness and response to the blaze, which is believed to have been caused by an illegal campfire, following criticism from the opposition and local business owners.
Opposition spokesperson for fire and emergency services Dale Last told ABC the fires had caused “shocking damage” and accused the government of failing to act sooner to protect the island.
“This is a World Heritage-listed site that has been treated appallingly from a weak minister who is failing to take any responsibility for this unfolding disaster,” he told the ABC.
However, Ms Palaszczuk defended the initial handling of the blaze, which was taken over by Queensland Fire and Emergency Services in late November.
“This one just completely got away,” Mr Shooter said.
Manager of the Cathedrals on Fraser campground Jack Worcester praised Queensland Parks and Wildlife for their efforts on the fire front, which he estimated came up to 100 metres from the property.
“I don’t think they could have done any more, to be honest,” he said.
“Earlier on, when the fire was still a long way up north … I guess it would have been easier to put out, but if they had thrown the amount of resources at it that they are throwing at it now, sure it may have gone out but then we would be investigating why they spent so much money on a small fire.”
He said the remote terrain of the island meant it was difficult for firefighters to access the front.
“We’ve got one sand track, there’s no exit, you can’t really put crews on there to fire fight. It’s just too dangerous,” he said.
QFES co-ordinator Brian Cox said about 50 residents, many of them volunteer firefighters, had remained to defend their properties.
“Firefighters, with the assistance of water-bombing aircraft, will continue working to contain the fire today but firefighters might not be able to protect every property,” the QFES said.
On Tuesday afternoon, residents of The Oaks and Kingfisher Bay Resort and Village on the eastern side of the island were told to prepare to leave if conditions worsen.
Mr Cox told Seven’s Today a combination of the rain, fire crews on the ground, and back-burning had allowed authorities to “save” the township of Happy Valley on Monday morning.
“Last reports are that the fire front is now around about 400 metres away from … The Oaks, about a kilometre south of Happy Valley,” he said.
About 90 firefighters and 24 water-bombing aircraft were working to contain the fire on Monday.