Culture

Fraser Island Has Been Burning For Almost Two Months, And Things Are Getting Worse

"World heritage sites shouldn’t burn and yet here we are, again."

One year ago today, Australia was smack bang in the middle of an inferno.

The 2019/20 bushfire season destroyed more than 17 million hectares across NSW, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and the ACT. Reports estimate at least three billion animals were impacted. More than 3,000 homes were lost, and 33 people died.

Now we’re watching as world-heritage listed Fraser Island (also known as K’gari) burns.

Residents on the island’s east coast were forced to evacuate this morning after fire began threatening homes in Happy Valley — a bushfire that has been burning since mid-October. Most of the residents on the western side also left last week.

The fire is believed to have been sparked by an illegal campfire seven weeks ago. Since then more than half of the world-heritage listed island has been destroyed, around 80,000 hectares.

Fraser is the world’s largest sand island, and is prized for its ecological significance.

Report into 2019 Fires Handed Down As 2020 Fires Rage

Ahead of last year’s bushfire season fire services lobbied the government to fund extra water bombers and other firefighting aircraft, but the government rejected repeated requests. We all know how that worked out.

In the last few weeks one million litres of water has been dropped on Fraser Island, but still QFES don’t expect the risk to be over until they see some rain.

The state government has now ordered a review into the fire, only weeks after a report was handed down by the royal commission which was looking into last year’s bushfire season.

Their recommendations include creating a national aerial firefighting fleet — right now the Fraser Coast community has had to turn to NSW, who have sent their large air tanker north to help with waterbombing.

That followed huge backlash to the news that Fraser Island had burned for 34 days before Queensland got their $15 million waterbombing plane out of its hangar. The government has since said the ability to use the plan is heavily dependent on things like weather conditions and vegetation types, despite spruiking it heavily before the election and saying it could be deployed “at moment’s notice“.

The royal commission’s report also recommended reviewing the approval process for hazard reduction burns, and engaging with traditional owners to learn more about Indigenous fire management.

Hazard reduction burns this year reached about 5 percent of the island, which the state government has argued is more than the recommended amount.