Queensland firefighters face horror conditions after strong winds and dry lightning overnight


November 17, 2019 06:20:33

Queensland firefighters have awoken to another day of uncertainty with more than 50 fires burning across the state as the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) warns of extreme fire danger for the south-east.

Key points:

  • Gusty winds and the threat of thunderstorms may make conditions more difficult for fire crews, BOM says
  • QFES says this morning’s fire behaviour is likely to be “erratic” and fast-moving
  • Residents who have evacuated are hoping their homes will be in one piece when they return

As of 11:30pm last night there were two emergency blazes burning in the Scenic Rim, at Mount Lindesay, and Darling Downs, near Ravensbourne.

There were also major concerns for the beach township of Cowan Cowan, on Moreton Island, which is home to a number of heritage listed buildings.

Residents were told to leave now as a life-threatening bushfire raced towards the township.

It is understood the Cowan Cowan fire may have been started by a lightning strike, as were at least four others across the state.

BOM senior forecaster Jess Gardner said the focus today would remain in that area where the fire threat remains and winds could reach up to 40 kilometres an hour.

“Those winds can make the fires travel quite fast and the heat and the dryness means that any new fires could start quite easily, and fires will burn quite easily as well,” Ms Gardner said.

The threat of thunderstorms, with very little rain could also make conditions even more difficult for weary fire crews.

“For the most part, we could see some severe storms and that could bring damaging wind gusts, and possibly large hail which could make firefighting harder, rather than easier with the rainfall,” Ms Gardner said.

“Temperatures are expected to ease on Monday across South-East Queensland, before increase to the mid 30s again by the middle of next week.”

Likewise, Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES) Assistant Commissioner Tony Johnstone said fire activity was likely to be “erratic”.

“We’re going to see fire behaviours that’s very driven and erratic on the fire line. The temperature’s going to pick up, so far fighting tomorrow is going to be very exhausting and hot work,” he said.

“So the crews are going to be looking at how they can fight their fires using aircraft, how they can get into fires early, picking when they need to do their burning out activities.”

Resident hopes ‘everything is still here’ in a day or two

Yesterday major concerns were held for Pechey and Ravensbourne, near Toowoomba, where a fast-moving bushfire continues to burn.

Ravensbourne resident Brett Dreyer evacuated his home yesterday but said it was the first time he had ever done so in 15 years of living in the area.

“I’ve decided … I’ll move on at least for tonight and leave the bulk of my possessions just as they are and hope that I’ll be coming back in a day or two and hope everything is still here,” he said.

“This has been a bit more extreme than previous years when we’ve had some local events happen so it’s probably more extreme yeah.

“It’s just quite mind boggling how people that experience this stuff get through it.”

Mr Dreyer said he had been glued to the television watching California’s wildfires tear through the state in late October.

He said the events had been fresh in his mind for several weeks but for it to become a lived experience was hard to come to terms with.

“I guess just seeing how extreme those events were in America and wondering how people actually cope and keeping getting by each other day — before and after the events.

“It’s pretty confronting when it’s on your doorstep.”

But he said he was not particularly surprised when the fire broke out in the Darling Downs due to the region’s bone-dry conditions.

“I had considered it in this area because there’s an awful lot of fuel in our local sort of parks and bushland areas. But being so green all the time, we’re such a high rainfall area generally speaking,” he said.

“But the more recent events that we’re having just seem to be getting worse because it’s getting drier year by year.

“What I’m seeing just recently is reasonably extreme — not much green left anywhere. And all you need to add then is the fire and the wind.”

Breathing easy again

In some brighter news, residents across the State are breathing a little easier now the dangerous “whole of community” air quality alert has been lifted.

But with strong south easterlies expected to hit Queensland again this morning and Monday there are fears those levels could rise again.

The Department of Environment’s Director of Air Quality Services David Wainwright said they are mapping “live” air pollution data from nearly 40 monitoring stations across the State.

Where the air sampled were once collected by hand in plastic bags, the system is now fully computerised with data sent back to their Dutton Park headquarters via the internet.

“The high tech instrumentation we have out there that can measure miniscule particles particles in high concentrations in what takes just a few seconds,” Mr Wainwright said.

“So collecting seconds to minutes data, basically what we’re doing is collating averages which is shown on our website.”

Even today, many of Brisbane’s suburbs are rated as “poor” according to the “World Air Quality Index”.

The scientists warn the forecast south-easterlies could bring back the thick smoky haze from the fires in New South Wales.

“It really depends on the meteorology. We tend to see north-easterly in the mornings and in the afternoons that southerly component is expected to bring smoke back in.” Mr Wainwright said.

The index measurements are based on some of Brisbane’s main pollutants including ozone, particles, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide.

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