Weather News

Queensland fires remain challenging as Pechey blaze flares again

By Rebeka Powell, staff, Monday November 18, 2019 - 00:36 EDT
ABC licensed image
The Pechey/Ravensbourne fire has remained a concern today despite some rain falling across the south-east. - ABC licensed

Two emergency fire warnings have been downgraded in Queensland's south-east as more than 80 blazes continue to burn across the state.

Emergency warnings were downgraded to watch and act for Ravensbourne, north of Toowoomba, as well as Redbank Creek outside of Esk, at 9:20pm.

Both warnings were part of the larger Pechey fire, which has been burning for four days.

Meanwhile, the south-east, Central Highlands, Coalfields, Maranoa and Warrego areas are facing a severe fire danger.

At a community meeting in Hampton, north of Toowoomba, Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES) incident controller John Welk told residents he expected the bushfire there to burn for another week.

The blaze has already destroyed about 4,000 hectares in Peachey and Ravensbourne in the Darling Downs over the past four days and firefighters expect that figure to grow.

"We're a long way from over, people … the fire will move and we will struggle with it today," Mr Welk said.

"I'm not hiding that fact at all — today is going to be an incredibly challenging day for us."

He said a 737 waterbomber would drop fire retardant to help crews fighting the blaze.

"There may be times later on today where we cannot get in front of this fire — purely for the safety of our own crews," he said.

Mr Welk said while protecting property was a priority, it was secondary to the lives of firefighters.

"At the end of the day property can be rebuilt," he said.

A young family who bought their first home in Ravensbourne just a few months ago were forced to leave late on Saturday afternoon.

"We just had to pack a few things, get the cat inside and, yeah, it's a bit scary," Clara Weeks said.

Toowoomba Mayor Paul Antonio said the region had never seen fires like the one crews were battling this week.

"These are really trying times," he said.

Last night there were major concerns for the beach township of Cowan Cowan, on Moreton Island, which is home to a number of heritage-listed buildings.

Residents were told to leave as a life-threatening bushfire raced towards the township.

It is understood the Cowan Cowan fire may have been started by a lightning strike, which is how at least four others across the state began.

'Any new fires could start quite easily'

BOM senior forecaster Jess Gardner said the focus on Sunday would remain in that area where the fire threat remains, and winds could reach up to 40 kilometres an hour.

"Those winds can make the fires travel quite fast and the heat and the dryness means that any new fires could start quite easily, and fires will burn quite easily as well," Ms Gardner said.

The threat of thunderstorms, with very little rain could also make conditions even more difficult for weary fire crews.


"For the most part we could see some severe storms, and that could bring damaging wind gusts and possibly large hail, which could make firefighting harder rather than easier with the rainfall," Ms Gardner said.

"Temperatures are expected to ease on Monday across south-east Queensland, before increasing to the mid-30s again by the middle of next week."

Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES) Assistant Commissioner Tony Johnstone said the fire activity was likely to be "erratic".

"So the crews are going to be looking at how they can fight their fires using aircraft, how they can get into fires early, picking when they need to do their burning out activities," he said.

Resident hopes 'everything is still here' in a day or two

On Saturday major concerns were held for Pechey and Ravensbourne, near Toowoomba, where a fast-moving bushfire continues to burn.

Ravensbourne resident Brett Dreyer said he evacuated his home for the first time in his 15 years of living in the area.

"I'll move on at least for tonight and leave the bulk of my possessions just as they are and hope that I'll be coming back in a day or two and hope everything is still here," he said.

"This has been a bit more extreme than previous years when we've had some local events happen so it's probably more extreme.

"It's just quite mind-boggling how people that experience this stuff get through it."

Mr Dreyer said he had been glued to the television watching California's wildfires tear through the US state in late October.

He said the disaster had been on his mind for several weeks and for it to become a lived experience was hard to come to terms with.

"I guess just seeing how extreme those events were in America and wondering how people actually cope and keeping getting by each other day before and after the events, it's pretty confronting when it's on your doorstep," he said.

But he said he was not particularly surprised when the fire broke out in the Darling Downs due to the region's bone-dry conditions.

"I had considered it in this area because there's an awful lot of fuel in our local sort of parks and bushland areas," he said.

"… We're such a high-rainfall area generally speaking, but the more recent events that we're having just seem to be getting worse because it's getting drier year by year.

"What I'm seeing just recently is reasonably extreme — not much green left anywhere. And all you need to add then is the fire and the wind."

Authorities monitoring air quality

The Department of Environment's director of air quality services David Wainwright said they were mapping "live" air pollution data from nearly 40 monitoring stations across the state.

Air samples were once collected by hand in plastic bags, but the system is now fully computerised, with data sent back to the department's Dutton Park headquarters via the internet.

"The high-tech instrumentation we have out there can measure miniscule particles particles in high concentrations in what takes just a few seconds," Mr Wainwright said.

"So collecting seconds to minutes data, basically what we're doing is collating averages which is shown on our website."

The air on Sunday in according to the World Air Quality Index.

The scientists warned the forecast south-easterly winds could bring back the thick smoky haze from the fires in New South Wales.

"It really depends on the meteorology. We tend to see north-easterly in the mornings and in the afternoons that southerly component is expected to bring smoke back in," Mr Wainwright said.

The index measurements are based on some of Brisbane's main pollutants including ozone, particles, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide.


© ABC 2019

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