Australia bush fire rips through heritage-listed island

BRISBANE (AFP) – Australian firefighters are struggling to control a massive bush fire that already destroyed 40 per cent of the UNESCO world heritage-listed Fraser Island before a heatwave hit yesterday.

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 swathes of the island’s unique forests.

Temperatures are forecast to peak at 34 degrees Celsius 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 told AFP.

About two-thirds of Queensland state, including Fraser Island, is currently gripped by drought.

According to a recent report from the nation’s top science and meteorology agencies, climate change is fuelling more extreme droughts, bush fires and cyclones in Australia – which they said will only worsen as temperatures continue to rise.

Firefighters on Fraser Island are not only battling “very challenging weather conditions”, Haig said, but are stymied by limited access to the blaze in the island’s remote north.

Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service said the fire was burning on two fronts across 74,000 hectares – or 42 per cent 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.

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.

Planes 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 said.

The Queensland Fire and Emergency Service imposed a seven-day fire ban in the area from yesterday, as firefighters brace for an extended stretch of difficult weather conditions.