K’gari fires – where to now?

An illegal campfire started the Fraser Island K’gari bushfire on October 14, 2020. During a two month response, with a record amount of water dropped on a fire in Queensland, 85 000 hectares of the World Heritage-listed island was burnt. Last month, Rainbow Beach Commerce and Tourism (RBCT) learnt about outcomes of the bushfires and recommendations, as well as rationales for campfire bans at Teewah Beach. 

Representatives from Queensland Parks and Wildlife (QPWS), Rural Fire Service (RFS), Department of Environment and Science (DES), Inspector-General Emergency Management (IGEM) and Gympie Regional Council (GRC) attended.

Out of the K’gari Fraser Island Bushfire Review, 38 recommendations were tabled in Parliament, with work ongoing.

Locality Specific Fire Management Groups

  • QPWS said they initiated a lot of those local area fire groups years back
  • Have been around since 2008, now meet twice instead of once a year
  • Broadened scope – were 8-10 now 25-30 members
  • A community member has developed a plan for their community
  • More firebreaks on Orchid Beach and more water tanks installed for fire suppression around those communities
  • Plans are in place not just about reducing fuel, but other measures, so better placed to manage in future; for instance, remove barriers around tenure/reduce bureaucracy
  • Butchulla have conducted more walk-throughs and found more heritage areas, planning more hazard reduction burning at the right time
  • All the businesses on the Island have agreed to install fittings that are compatible with the RFS hoses, so there will faster access to water for firefighters

“We try to be an enabler, you need the right people around the table to talk about reducing risk. The work Happy Valley did saved their township.”

 ‘Why aren’t aircraft putting out fire?’ and ‘Why didn’t we hit it earlier and harder?’

  • This country has complex vegetation – peat swamps burn underground for many weeks and months, there’s understory, canopy, heat storing in banksia, scribbly gum and trees with massive hollows
  • Over 13.3 million litres of water didn’t put it out – but we were able to steer from critical infrastructure, and it didn’t penetrate the rainforest areas

“Three major fire fronts, in December – ultimately it rained and helped us out”

“After 300,000 years – the island never had chemicals applied. What will happen to its world heritage values, when we suffocate oxygen out of the systems.

“We won’t use retardants unless life or property is at stake. A lot of work went on behind the scenes.

“Protection of life and property is our priority. There is still risk and still work to do.”

Controlled Burns

  • Lots of fire line work and 14 planned burns, some will come off the list as they were impacted during the fire
  • Managing fire breaks takes up a lot of resources

“Four burns must get done this year – already had some goes at those. Conditions were a bit moist. Normally these are conducted in May/early June – however, the last three years, those months have been continuously wet. Now it will be July before we can get started to be completed by August.”

Forecast recovery

  • The tall open forest is very fire resistant and recovers quite well, banks and woodlands burns well with black smoke and a good capacity to recover
  • There are different grasses, sedge swamps were 49% impacted – limited to moderate long term impact of recovering well
  • Pest management  – cats targeting threatened species – ground parrots, etc.
  • Coastal dunes sheoaks are not fire tolerant – they don’t recover well. If they do, they take a long time. What concerns us is the potential catastrophic outcomes

Teewah Beach fire bans

  • Teewah has same coastal dunes with catastrophic damage to the foreshore
  • Fire bans are in place to protect the pristine NP world heritage values
  • If foredunes are scorched their ability to come back is not great – 5,500 hectare 55% of the National Park in that area

“If that doesn’t recover, people are not going to want to come here, because they will be camping in the desert.”

Investment in Fraser Island

  • Millions of dollars invested in the island each year – in the last year a million dollars was spent on equipment/tractors alone
  • A sustainable visitor capacity study has commenced

“We’re invested in this region as well – we want people to keep coming.”

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