Firefighters battle grass fires
FIREFIGHTERS have been out across Central Queensland battling what could turn into the region's worst grassfire season in 20 years.
Queensland Fire Service Central regional manager of rural operations John Fisher said yesterday that crews had been on the ground fighting up to 25 grassfires a day for the past week.
Areas threatened by the flames yesterday included Gladstone, where residents were advised to evacuate their homes as multiple fire crews battled the blaze near the suburb of O'Connell.
Mr Fisher warned that if Rockhampton residents were not already prepared for the coming fire season, they were “two weeks behind the eight ball”.
He said the legacy of the 2009 bushfires was still fresh in the mind of the fire service, which was doing everything it could to keep control of a “hideously resource-hungry fire season”.
Mr Fisher said the fire service had fought multiple fires in Alton Downs, Mount Morgan, in and around Gladstone, as well as helping land owners and National Parks and Wildlife Service conducted hazard reduction burns.
“The risk of grass fires this year is extremely high, and that is because of a number of reasons, partly due to the fact we haven't had any rain for weeks, but also because we have a huge, high, continuous field of grass across the region.
“We have been fighting fires that, because of the unprecedented growth, have had flames two or three metres high in the air, and that means we can't necessarily be on the front foot,” he said.
Mr Fisher said some of the main causes of the smaller grassfires in Gladstone had been cigarette butts being thrown out of the windows of vehicles on the highway, as well as blown tyres on heavy vehicles causing a spark, which set the tinder-dry grass on fire.
“I think a lot of the grassfires have been around Gladstone, because unusually, the conditions are more advanced down there, with dry grass and light wind conditions,” he said.
Mr Fisher said many fires had also been challenging to fight due to locations on steep hills, so the fire service had been using a fixed-wing spotter plane to identify fires.
He said the spotter plane had already completed 10 fly-over missions in the past week.
“I think what we are going to see is an increase in the grassfire trend across the region, with increasingly dry grass and landscapes with huge loads, and as the season progresses, more westerly winds,” Mr Fisher said.
“It's just been highly unusual – usually we would be fighting these sorts of fires in late August or September, but we've been fighting them during July.
“We've had crews committed to one fire for two or three days at a time, and that been a huge drain on our resources. I don't think there's anywhere in Central Queensland that doesn't have a very high risk of grassfires right now.”