6 November, 2023
Firefighters stay on high alert
FARMS and bushland have been burnt to ash over the past week, with wildfires breaking out across the region and with no rain in sight, locals and firefighters remain on high alert for more.
Last week, fires raged in Silver Valley, around Herberton, Irvinebank, Watsonville, Innot Hot Springs, Tinaroo, Arriga, Mount Molloy, Wangetti and Lakeland, keeping auxiliary and rural firefighters on the job for endless hours protecting locals and their assets.
Approximately 4000 hectares have been burned in a vast area from Herberton to Irvinebank since last Wednesday, with two dwellings lost in Silver Valley and other structures around the Mareeba area.
Reports that some of the fires may been deliberately lit have been received by QFES and it is understood police are investigating.
QFES firefighter Brad Flemming witnessed the intensity of the fires in the Watsonville and Silver Valley areas, and believes a lack of preparation by property owners provided the fires with more fuel and made it more difficult to access the properties.
“There were a lot of residents who hadn’t been maintaining their yards or properties around structures, and a lot of driveways were hard to access with our appliances and that makes it extremely difficult for us,” he said.
“It came to a point where conditions became extreme, and a lot of houses were under threat simultaneously and, as we have said in the past, we don’t have an infinite amount of resources where we can put a truck at each residence.”
Aircraft proved to be critical in enabling them to keep up to date with the movement of the fires and target areas where the intensity was highest.
“Crews are trying their best right now to look after structures and assets, and we are trying really hard to develop plans on how we are going to tie this in and put an end to it,” Mr Flemming said.
“We are still in a very high fire danger period - all permits have been ceased, and we just don’t want any further damage to our landscape.”
In Arriga, property owner and Rural Fire Service member John Nucifora said his crew were becoming increasingly frustrated with what they believed was deliberately-lit fires.
He said police had been on the scene investigating a blaze that ripped through a gully between his and his neighbour’s farms, damaging some of his crops and about 80 trees in his neighbour’s farm.
He said in all his time as a property owner and volunteer firefighter, he had never seen flames so big.
“The ground has got that much fuel in it that we have never seen flames like this roll through our place that high,” Mr Nucifora said.
“Farming is hard as it is, we have struggled undergoing some severe pressure over the past two or three years since Covid.
“Money is tight, and to have risks like this, it’s not worth it.”
Mr Nucifora also strongly encouraged locals to join their local Rural Fire Brigade and to obey the fire bans strictly.
“We are burned out, and people have no idea how frustrating it is for our brigades and the urban guys who have to go and fight these deliberately lit fires,” he said.
Residents in Mutchilba have also been struggling with water supply to help tackle the flame, leaving many property owners fighting fires with nothing but old bags and a garden hose.
Since then, Sunwater has promised to install a temporary backup source and begin working on a permanent solution when the fire season concludes.
Locals across all fire hotspots have taken to helping fight the fire with their own equipment and water.
Bushfire safety officer Chloe Swiney said QFES was grateful for the ongoing support and help from locals, saying locals making fire breaks was the best way to assist them.
“Make sure you clear around your house and gutters, and if you are under immediate threat, call Triple Zero (000) and let our crews come and assist,” she said.
In response to the ongoing emergencies, Tablelands Regional Council established several evacuation centres in Ravenshoe and Herberton for those who had nowhere else to go.
Council is also encouraging locals in emergency areas to check their emergency dashboard (www.dashboard.trc.qld.gov.au) to see all warnings, road closures and evacuation centres.
All fire warnings can be accessed at www.qfes.qld.gov.au/Incident-Dashboard