Homes safe but fires still loom

PALLS of smoke gave Mount Archer the appearance of an angry volcano yesterday as destructive bushfires continued to rage on its northern and eastern slopes.

For most of the day, residents of the million dollar mansions on the summit were isolated, unable to leave their homes because Pilbeam Drive was closed to traffic.

From the city, the dense smoke billowing around the top of the mountain made it appear that the homes were under threat.

But from the air it was apparent they were well-clear of the main blaze raging in a deep gully on the far slopes where vegetation was dense and the terrain made it impossible for firefighters to be effective.

Inspector Eddie Lacko, the incident controller co-ordinating the efforts of 65 firefighters, described it as mountain goat territory.

“A lot of the time we have to wait for the fire to come to us. It's too steep for vehicles and people,” he said.

Two aerial bombers were in constant use, refilling from a makeshift dam at the top of the mountain every few minutes to dump water on the flames.

Pilbeam Drive was closed to prevent sightseers from entering an area where they could be in danger from fire or thick smoke, and to ensure the firefighters were not hampered by intruders.

Police said they had turned away a number of “sticky beaks”. Once the main danger had cleared they allowed residents to gain access to their properties as long as they could prove they lived in Rocky's most elevated streets.

Inspector Lacko said 14 people from six homes, who had been evacuated from New Zealand Gulley on Thursday, were allowed home at 9am yesterday morning. He warned that 17 houses on Yeppoon Road - between access points six and nine - could be in danger from a backburning operation last night.

Police called on all the homes yesterday afternoon to inform residents that they should be prepared for evacuation if necessary.

Motorists were advised to avoid Yeppoon Road if possible and use Emu Park Road instead.

The firefighting operation yesterday was focused on establishing containment lines before predicted high winds on Sunday.

“We will be working all day and all night to do as much as we can before Sunday,” Inspector Lacko said.

He estimated the fire in the Berserker wilderness had so far destroyed 3500 acres of native bushland and predicted the area could easily double before the danger passed.

“It has destroyed everything in its path and will continue to do so but it's native bush and will grow back,” he said.

But Rockhampton gardening guru Neil Fisher told The Morning Bulletin he was concerned that there were rare and vulnerable plants on the slopes that could be permanently lost.

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