HEROES SAVE US – That’s the headline on our local Noosa paper, superimposed over a dramatic photograph of a lone fire fighter directing a puny stream of water from a hose into an advancing wall of flame at Peregian Beach. It’s a term which can be over-used, along with “amazing” and “miraculous,” but in this case, all totally accurate. In a scene straight out of Dante’s Inferno, flames and embers fanned by winds gusting to 50 knots suddenly threatened thousands of homes at Peregian Beach and other coastal centres to the north towards Noosa on the evening of September 9.
While the firies put their lives on the line to save homes, a couple of motorcycle cops and others in a car braved the flames sweeping across access roads to rouse residents from their beds and direct them to safety. Their dramatic body-cam footage showed just how horrendous the situation was, as the load hailer message “Evacuate now!” filled the night air.
From our coastal home, only about 6km from the fire front, my wife and I could see the glow lighting the sky. We were receiving fire emergency text messages telling us to be prepared to leave: “Watch and act”. That night we heard news reports that ten homes had been lost at Peregian. There was also a rumour that the service station in the small coastal village had been consumed by the flames. We went to bed late for a worrying and endured a mainly sleepless night.
Fortunately, as Tuesday dawned, we heard the previous night’s news had been clarified – only one home had been destroyed, another seriously damaged, and several others affected to some degree. No lives had been lost and the service station had been saved. We remained in the firing line, however, the fire was still raging, but the strong, cold winds moved from Monday’s north westerlies to south easterlies – better for us, but putting other settlements further inland at risk.
During the day, from our roof deck we could see the constant stream of fire-fighting helicopters hovering in the smoke above the fire front and dumping their water loads, but the flames continued to advance through the extensive national park forests. Then, that afternoon the converted Boeing 737 fire-bomber arrived from New South Wales and dumped its 15,000 litres of pink fire retardant ahead of the inferno. And again, miraculously, within about an hour, we could literally see the thick plumes of smoke start to diminish. Hallelujah! That night we slept more easily, and by Wednesday it was pretty obvious that it was all over, Red Rover! That morning, about 5000 residents who had been forced to evacuate were allowed back to their homes among scorched earth and gardens.
But the fire risk remains high and it is apparent how “touch and go” the situation was at the height of the emergency. The firies had drawn a defensive line in the sand at Peregian’s Woodland Drive. Their very real fear was if the flames had skipped that, the dunal forest terrain to the north would sweep the flames right through Marcus and Castaways beaches onto Sunrise and beyond, potentially as far as the tourist mecca of Noosa. Catastrophe averted!
Not unexpectedly the fires here, in the Gold Coast hinterland, other parts of Queensland and New South Wales, have sparked the usual outcry from some media commentators and politicians blaming “climate change”. This includes the Greens’ Adam Bandt and even Jackie Trad in her short role as acting premier. Well, climate change doesn’t provide matches or lighters, and the real tragedy is that the Peregian fire and a number of others appear to have been deliberately, or so police allege. Two teenagers have been charged with starting the Peregian blaze and police have set up a special task force to investigate, with about ten outbreaks identifiedso far as having been maliciously or negligently ignited.
Executive director of climate sceptic group The Saltbush Club, Viv Forbes, says: “Bushfires are normal events in this season in tropical and sub-tropical latitudes of the southern hemisphere – in Australia, Africa and South America. Even Captain Cook noted many fires in Eastern Australia in 1770, long before the era of ‘global warming’ hysteria. What is unusual is the number and ferocity of recent Australian fires.
“Destructive bushfires need three things – a big load of dry fuel, hot dry winds and a point of ignition. A big load of dry fuel, close to towns and buildings, in this season, is a sign of gross mis-management … That fuel should have been raked, dozed or burnt in safer weather conditions.
“But how do 100+ bushfires start suddenly? Machinery occasionally starts fires, but not 120 fires in a short time. “There have been no lightning storms, so who are the arsonists or idiots starting these fires?”
The group boasts a widely diverse membership, and says it “aims to change the climate of public opinion, thus changing the political agenda” on climate change.
But “idiots” seems a mild term for the fire bugs, given the risk to lives, property and defenceless slaughtered and maimed wildlife. While kids might be responsible for “accidentally” starting some fires, one has to wonder at the motivation of any adult or teenager old enough to know right from wrong.
The punishment should fit the crime.
John Mikkelsen was the editor of the Gladstone Observer