Firefighters work to contain a large bushfire east of Rockhampton.
Firefighters work to contain a large bushfire east of Rockhampton. Chris Ison

Residents flee their homes

FIVE evacuated families stayed with friends or relatives as fire crews battled to protect their homes last night.

And they have no idea when they will be allowed to return home.

UPDATE 2PM: Seventeen households are being doorknocked by police as a fire threatens properties along Yeppoon Road.

UPDATE 1.30PM: Residents who live at the top of Mt Archer have been temporarily isolated after police closed Pilbeam Drive because of smoke hazards.

The residents of New Zealand Gully Road and Sleipner Road, between Rockhampton and Cawarral, were forced to flee yesterday afternoon as a bushfire ripped through.

Shortly before noon police told the occupants of six houses they had to leave because firefighters could not guarantee their safety.

They were asked to assemble at Cawarral Community Hall where The Salvation Army was on hand with cold drinks and food.

It was intended to be a short temporary evacuation, but as the day wore on it became clear the fire raging in the Berserker Ranges would not be tamed easily.

The residents of only one of the evacuated properties were allowed to return before night fell.

The battle in the wilderness east of the city was the fiercest yet as 31 crews and an army of nearly 90 firefighters struggled to contain the fire's erratic progress.

Flames leapt 20 metres in the air, creating huge clouds of dense, dirty smoke that wafted towards North Rockhampton.

By dusk there was a low lying pall of smoke over much of the north and east of the city, prompting city GP Dr Joan Chamberlain to warn people with breathing difficulties to seek immediate medical attention.

A spokesperson at the fire control centre said crews would be working throughout the night to gain the upper hand.

“We will continue backburning the Mount Archer summit on the eastern side through the night,” she said.

“We have crews also working in Scented Gum Road, near New Zealand Gully.”

She said the effort, which involved water bombing aircraft, had ensured that no properties had been damaged.

Although there was no immediate threat to Norman Gardens and Frenchville, on the western slopes of the mountain, residents were warned to remain on high alert and have their fire plans in place.

Yesterday evening Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service issued a statement to refute criticisms that it had reneged on a fire management strategy designed to prevent widespread bushfires in the Berserker wilderness area.

Leigh Harris, the Department of Environment and Resource Management regional manager, said the service had carried out six planned burns in Mount Archer National Park and State Forest.

She said Mount Archer National Park and State Forest had an approved fire management strategy.

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