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Queensland bushfire emergency ramps up in Crows Nest, authorities fear five homes lost in Pechey blaze

Tuesday November 19, 2019 - 00:13 EDT
ABC image
A water-bombing helicopter dumps water over fire near Crows Nest on Monday afternoon. - ABC

Fire authorities have issued an emergency warning for residents in Crows Nest on Queensland's Darling Downs to leave immediately as an "unpredictable and very large" bushfire travels towards the town.



A 'leave immediately' alert has been issued for the south-eastern side of Crows Nest, as the town faces a threat from part of the Pechey fire that has been burning since last week.

Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES) Acting Commissioner Mike Wassing said there were unconfirmed reports of five homes being destroyed in the blaze in the Pechey area, but the extent of property damage in that region was hard to gauge right now.

"At the moment we can't get into those homes because of the location of that area and we'll do that as soon as we can," he said.

"These homes are in largely remote areas where the fire took a significant run under really extreme conditions yesterday afternoon and while we believe we have been able to protect some of the homes in those remote areas, potentially not all of them."



He said homes were also potentially under threat on Monday evening.

"That's absolutely the case [but] we're well-resourced in that area," he said.

"It's a really difficult fire — right from the get-go with this fire we knew this was going to be challenging.

"Our main aim is still making sure people are not injured and there's no lives lost."



More than 70 blazes are still burning across the state, but the Crows Nest fire is the only one with an emergency warning.

QFES said at 5:15pm conditions were very dangerous and residents should evacuate in a north-westerly direction, using the New England Highway towards Crows Nest.

The leave immediately warning is for residents on and in the vicinity of Tin Mine Road, Three Mile Road (between Tin Mine Road and Dingo Road), Orchard Road, Pinnell Road, Grapetree Road and Perseverance Dam Road.

An evacuation centre is open at the Crows Nest Showgrounds, New England Highway near Showgrounds Terrace.

Toowoomba Mayor Paul Antonio said residents needed to be on alert.

#alertme

"We don't want to scare anybody but in an unpredictable situation like this, I can't tell you what the next 24 hours will bring," Cr Antonio said.

QFES incident controller John Welke said the winds were complicating the situation.

"Our crews are working extensively to establish containment lines on the northern side of the fire factoring in this wind change that is probably going to be with us for the majority of the day," Mr Welke said.

The fire emergency facing Queensland is still not over and it won't be for weeks, according to the Acting Fire Commissioner, who says it will take a heavy dose of rainfall to get more than 70 blazes under control.

QFES Acting Commissioner Mike Wassing said firefighters were fighting an uphill battle.

"[Today] peters out a little bit. When I say it peters out, we're back to very high conditions and in some parts of the state moderate conditions," Commissioner Wassing said.

"The reality though for us [firefighters] is with these fires we'll be fighting some of these fires for weeks yet.



"These fires will not go out — even the rainfall that we get that we've seen in some of those isolated storms will not be putting them out.

"If I use the analogy, a bit like our aircraft: the aircrafts are really helpful but they won't put the fire out. In the same way these showers won't put the fire out."



Smoke haze reaches NZ

Meanwhile, the smoke haze from fires burning in New South Wales and South East Queensland has now made its way to New Zealand.



Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) forecaster Kimba Wong said satellite imagery showed the smoke had travelled across the Tasman Sea to the north island in the last couple of days.

"By the time it gets there it's probably quite elevated and not causing too many issues in terms of visibility close to the ground but it might make for some quite beautiful sunsets and sunrises in New Zealand," she said.

The smoke is now about 2,000 kilometres from South East Queensland.

"That is a fair distance and if we look further afield that smoke haze is starting to get up in the higher regions of the atmosphere and it is making its way almost half way around the southern hemisphere," she said.

"In terms of the actual distances, it's half way around the mid-latitudes of the Southern Hemisphere.

"That is pretty extreme — we don't often see that. It is likely to make a full circle I would say at this point.

"Once it gets up into the upper atmosphere winds can get quite fast there so that tends to let them project themselves around the globe a little bit faster as well."

The smoke is unlikely to have any direct impact on the weather once it gets into the upper atmosphere.

"It's absolutely incredible — quite stunning — but also very grounding to see that satellite imagery," she said.



Residents may be displaced for a week

Residents of Ravensbourne and Pechey have been living in uncertainty for more than four days now, with the fluctuating fire conditions keeping them from home.

One young family, who bought their first home just a few months ago in Ravensbourne said they were just grateful to be safe.

"We just had to pack a few things, get the cat inside and yeah, it's a bit scary, strange kind of feeling isn't it," Clara Weeks said.



Ricky Schwerin said he first evacuated his property on Monday, returned for two days, and evacuated again on Wednesday.

"I seen the smoke but no flames, but where I am you could see the glow. A really big glow, like it's sunsetting out in the distance," he said.

"I raced home to grab a few things [once] but the fire is right across the road from it [his home].

"Little bit stressed, worried, just seeing how [the firefighters] go. Don't know long it'll be but I'm staying with aunties and uncles."



He said he had a lot of faith in the rural fire service and was even inspired to join.

"Keep up the good work, and I will be joining when I can," Mr Schwerin said.

Moreton Island still on authorities' radar

Police are currently overseeing the evacuation of the last campers on Moreton Island, off Brisbane, where two watch and act warnings are in place after a fire was sparked by dry lightning on Saturday night.



Fires are heading in a northerly direction towards Bulwer but there are no homes currently under threat.

Inspector Craig White said an evacuation centre had opened at Tangalooma Island Resort — where there were major issues with water supply several weeks ago.

"At the moment there are two fixed wing water-bombers and a helicopter water-bomber. They're going to remain in the area for the large part of today just putting out spot fires and maintaining an awareness of where those fires are moving to," he said.

Jarred Collard said he was camping at Comboyuro Point, near Bulwer, when they received evacuation orders.

"Just camping at Comboyuro Point and the rangers come up about 4:00am or something and said we need to pack up and get out of there before the wind changes direction and starts the fires going up there and yeah they come down here and welcomed us in the resort," Mr Collard said.

Inspector White said the resort was providing guests with tea and coffee as well as parking until they could organise to leave the island.


- ABC

© ABC 2019

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