Smoke haze from Sarabah bushfires obscuring the Gold Coast skyline on Thursday morning. (ABC News)
There will be extreme to locally catastrophic fire danger conditions in the Darling Downs, Granite Belt, Maranoa and Warrego tomorrow, the Queensland Rural Fire Service (QRFS) has said, while residents near Sarabah in the Gold Coast hinterland are being told to prepare to leave.
- The Rural Fire Service warns catastrophic conditions are being forecast tomorrow for the state’s south
- The Darling Downs and Maranoa are being urged to prepare now
- There are currently bushfires at advice level in the south-east, including at Sarabah
It would only be the second time a catastrophic fire danger rating had been declared — the first was in November last year when fierce bushfires ravaged central Queensland.
Acting regional manager Clinton Newman has urged people to prepare now and heed any warnings from emergency services.
The catastrophic fire warning has only been issued once before, in November last year. (ABC News)
“We’re looking at fires that will be fast moving and difficult to control, so people who do not have well-prepared properties or who haven’t got a plan, we’re in the phase where it might be too late so their plan might be to leave early,” he said.
“We’ll see fire bans from midnight Thursday night or Friday morning, through to midnight Friday night or Saturday morning … so pretty much all of Friday.
“So … make preparations today.”
The areas facing a significant fire threat include Toowoomba, Southern Downs, Western Downs, Goondiwindi, Maranoa and the Balonne Shire council areas.
Meanwhile, residents at Sarabah, south of Canungra, in the Gold Coast hinterland are being urged to leave their homes, with conditions once more expected to worsen this afternoon.
QRFS said people in the Gold Coast hinterland area would be affected by heavy smoke, which would reduce visibility and air quality.
The regional fire manager for Brisbane, Wayne Waltisbuhl, told ABC Radio Brisbane crews were struggling to bring the fire under control.
“That fire’s not contained at the moment … it’s in really rugged terrain, which makes it hard for firefighters to get access,” he said.
What is a catastrophic fire?
- A catastrophic fire danger rating is as bad as it gets
- While some homes may survive a severe or extreme fire if you’re well prepared, the Country Fire Authority says no homes are designed to withstand catastrophic conditions
- If a fire starts and takes hold during catastrophic fire conditions, the weather bureau says it will be “extremely difficult to control” and take “significant firefighting resources”
- A catastrophic fire warning was last issued in Queensland in November 2018
- When these warnings are issued, your only safe option is to leave the area early
- The catastrophic category was added following the 2009 Black Saturday fires in Victoria
There are no properties under direct threat, but the Queensland Fire and Emergency Service said due to the fire conditions, residents were urged to be ready to enact their bushfire survival plans.
“We have not seen it this dry for so long coming out of winter without any rain — it has really caused us some real concerns,” Mr Waltisbuhl said.
“We are taking this forecast and the conditions we can see very seriously at the moment, this is one of the worst forecasts we can get.
“Not much we can do once a fire starts in those situations other than going to property and life protection.”
Other areas facing severe threat
The fire rating for the Central Highlands and Coalfields, Wide Bay and Burnett and south-east coast is expected to be severe tomorrow.
There are currently three bushfires at advice level in the south-east, including at Kurwongbah in the Moreton Bay shire, Upper Flagstone in the Lockyer Valley and Frazerview in the Scenic Rim, but they are all contained.
A very high fire danger remains in place for eastern districts.
There’s a total fire ban for most of southern Queensland including Logan, Gold Coast, Ipswich, Somerset, Lockyer Valley and Scenic Rim.
Under a local fire ban, open fires are prohibited and all permits to light fire that have been issued in areas will been cancelled.
What’s causing these conditions?
Forecaster Michael Knepp said strong and gusty winds would contribute to the extreme conditions forecast for Friday.
“We’re going to have a cold front moving to the far-south-west of the state late tonight and then sweeping across southern Queensland tomorrow,” he said.
He said ahead of the cold front, winds from the north-west would increase.
“It’s going to be quite windy … especially towards the western Darling Downs … the Maranoa towards Roma, St George, Bollon — very windy out there, and it’s going to be very warm too, very dry.”
“Those three things combined are going to lead to severe to extreme fire dangers for tomorrow.”