Australia’s Fraser Island residents told to leave immediately due to bushfire

Residents of a coastal resort town on a popular Australian holiday island have been told to leave immediately by authorities as a bushfire worsens.

Firefighters are struggling to control the huge bushfire on Fraser Island, off the east coast of Queensland.

The bushfire was sparked by an illegal campfire in mid-October and has destroyed at least 82,500 hectares of the Unesco World Heritage site.

A heatwave in south-east Australia has exacerbated bushfire conditions.

The Fraser Island fires are among the most serious since the end of last summer. Australia’s 2019-20 bushfire season was its most intense on record, though not its most deadly.

It saw blazes affect every Australian state, sweeping across 24m hectares of land, destroying more than 3,000 homes and killing or displacing nearly three billion animals.

Scientists have linked climate change to the intensity of the bushfire season.

What is happening on Fraser Island?
With temperatures soaring above 30C (86F) this weekend, Fraser Island’s bushfire warning was raised to emergency level late on Sunday.

The latest warning urges all residents near the Happy Valley township to “leave immediately if it is clear to do so” because the bushfire is approaching.

“If you are not in the area, do not return, as conditions are too dangerous,” the warning issued by the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services says.

As of 20:00 local time (10:00 GMT) on Sunday, a large fire was travelling in a south-easterly direction towards Happy Valley, where it was expected to have a “significant impact on the community” around midnight.

“Conditions are now very dangerous and firefighters may soon be unable to prevent the fire advancing,” the fire service’s warning says. “The fire may pose a threat to all lives directly in its path.”

There is also a separate warning in place for Kingfisher Bay Resort and Village, with residents told to be prepared to leave.

Queensland’s minister for emergency services, Mark Ryan, told local media about 90 firefighters, 38 vehicles and 17 aircraft were working on Fraser Island. Of those, about 30 firefighters and 11 vehicles were tackling the bushfire in Happy Valley.Greg Leach, Queensland’s fire-service chief, said his colleagues were working in challenging conditions, with high temperatures and strong winds hindering their efforts.

“This fire is a marathon not a sprint,” he said on Sunday. “We will not put this out until we get significant rain across Fraser Island.”

What can we expect from Australia’s bushfire season?
Bushfire season starts on different dates across and within Australia’s six states and various territories. They generally run through the summer months.

One forecast suggested the upcoming bushfire season would be “very different” to the last one.

A report by the Bushfire and Natural Hazard Cooperative Research Centre said it expects “normal fire potential” in most parts of Australia in December through to February 2021.

The situation will “favour grassfires”, which will be of “particular of interest for those southern states, where we’re just entering into the fire season”, chief executive of the organisation Dr Richard Thornton said.

Parts of New South Wales and Victoria, for example, will “face above-normal fire conditions”, the report said.

“Grass and crop fires are the main concern in these locations for the summer months as the growth dries out in the warmer weather,” the report said.

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