There was considerable damage in the World Heritage-listed Lamington National Park rainforest. (ABC News: Peter McCutcheon)
Analysis of satellite data suggests more than 440 hectares of unique sub-tropical rainforest was damaged in the recent Gold Coast hinterland fires.
- Bushfires swept through the Gold Coast hinterland, including parts of rainforest, in September
- Satellite images suggest more than 440 hectares of rainforest was damaged
- Dr Rod Fensham says rainforest fires are very rare but could start becoming more frequent
Griffith University researcher Patrick Norman says the most intense rainforest fires appear to have occurred on remnant blocks on private land, but there was also considerable damage within the World Heritage-listed Lamington National Park.
“I would never have thought this larger swathe of rainforest could burn in this park,” he told 7.30.
Rainforest fires are rare, according to Queensland Herbarium ecologist Dr Rod Fensham.
“Rainforest is fire retardant,” he said.
“It has this shady canopy that supresses all the ground fuel, it has a cool moist microclimate, it breaks the wind, it has every trick in the book to supress fire, but in extreme conditions it can burn.”
The Gold Coast hinterland fires last month started in drier eucalypt forest, and they were exacerbated by unusually hot dry winds that swept across much of Queensland and New South Wales.
“We’ve never experienced fire conditions like that in September, let alone in the first week of September,” retired NSW Fire and Rescue Commissioner Greg Mullins said.
“The weather conditions that we experienced were off the scale.”
Concerns about damage to national park
Patrick Norman says he never would have thought the rainforest in Lamington National Park would burn. (ABC News: Peter McCutcheon)
Map showing burn intensity in and around the Lamington National Park. (Supplied: Patrick Norman)
Much of the burnt rainforest is in remote country and still inaccessible, but 7.30 visited some of the fire damage with Dr Fensham and Mr Norman.
Where the fire was at a relatively low intensity, it tended to peter out after burning about 50 metres of rainforest.
“Fire can trickle through rainforest and not seem to cause too much damage,” Dr Fensham said.
“But there are certainly situations here where the fire was roaring with the full force of a north-westerly gale and in those conditions it can really singe the rainforest and cause substantial damage.”
Mr Norman says even minor damage to the Lamington National Park rainforest, which is home to more than 200 rare and threatened plant and animal species, is a concern.
“With any damage you always worry there’s going to be a push in of weeds, particularly lantana,” he said.
“And for many of the areas we’ve seen, the presence of lantana looks like it has actually impacted how flammable the area is.”
Rainforest fires may get ‘more and more frequent’
Dr Rod Fensham fears rainforest fires are set to become more common. (ABC News: Peter McCutcheon )
Although rainforest fires are relatively rare, scientists and firefighters are concerned they are likely to become more common.
“We probably have seen this kind of event before, and the climate records tell us that, but the climate scientists tell us they’re going to get more and more frequent,” Dr Fensham said.
“The rainforest can probably cope with a fire every 100 to 200 years.
“But the problem is when it burns and it becomes more flammable and the chance of getting reignited gets greater.”
Mr Mullins says there are clear warning signs that climate change is already having an effect.
“We’ve seen this west of Mackay in December last year, we’ve seen World Heritage areas in Tasmania burning, the Mount Hyland Nature Reserve up near Armidale, that’s burning now,” he said.
“It’s all rainforest, and normally it just shouldn’t burn like this.”
Watch this story tonight on 7.30.