Massive wildfire that has already destroyed nearly half of Australia’s K'gari-Fraser Island continues to burn
Bushfires Have Burned Half of Australia’s Fraser Island in the Past Six Weeks. Australian fire fighters are struggling to control a massive bushfire that already destroyed 40 percent of the UNESCO world heritage listed Fraser Island before a heatwave hit. The fire on the world's largest sand island, off Australia's east coast, has been raging for more than six weeks and is consuming large swaths of the island's unique forests. “Extensive water bombing continues to be used on the K’gari (Fraser Island) fire with more than one million litres of water and gel dropped since Saturday, 28 November 2020. Aerial operations have been effective to date in slowing the spread of the fire but conditions remain challenging and can change rapidly. A massive effort from our aerial teams, being supported by ground crews,” read the statement from Queensland Fire and Emergency Service. Temperatures were forecasted to peak at 34 degrees Celsius Monday as a heatwave sweeps across the region, raising concerns that hotter conditions will further fuel the blaze. “The vegetation on Fraser Island is extremely dry and because it's so dry it's therefore very easy to ignite,” incident controller James Haig said. Fire fighters are not only battling “very challenging weather conditions” but are stymied by limited access to the blaze in the island's remote north. Haig said as many as 10 water bombing aircraft had been deployed to fight the fire, including some tasked with protecting culturally significant Aboriginal sites. Aircraft dropped about 250 000 litres of water on Saturday alone but Haig said these efforts “will not stop the fire” but merely slow its progress. “We really need rain and we're unfortunately not likely to receive it for some time,” he added.
Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service said the fire was burning on two fronts across 74 000 hectares or 42 percent of the island but was not threatening properties.
However, as the fire has inched closer to settlements in recent days, authorities have banned new visitors from travelling to the popular holiday destination and restricted ferry services until further notice.
About two-thirds of Queensland state, including Fraser Island, are currently in drought.
Fraser Island is the world’s largest sand island and the only location on Earth where tall rainforests grow on sand dunes. It is known for its large population of dingoes or native wild dogs, was listed as a world heritage site for its rainforests, freshwater dune lakes and complex system of sand dunes that are still evolving. It is also called K'gari or paradise, in the language of the local Butchulla people and the spectacular setting attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists a year.
Smaller bushfires are burning elsewhere in Queensland as temperatures there soar after a weekend heatwave saw records tumble in Australia's southeast, including in Sydney where the city's residents sweltered through two days above 40 degrees Celsius.
More than 50 bushfires were burning across New South Wales state on Monday, where a return to heatwave conditions is forecast Tuesday.
Fraser Island’s bushfire was started by an illegal campfire in mid-October. Officials have not shared any further information about how exactly this campfire turned into a raging bushfire that has burned around 300 square miles of land. That said, unattended and mismanaged campfires are a common cause of wildfires.
Fortunately, no fatalities have been reported from the current Fraser Island bushfires.
Sources: Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES), Agence France-Presse, ABS News