Hundreds evacuated, schools close in central Queensland bushfires

QUEENSLAND Fire and Emergency Services has issued a fresh fire alert for residents in the townships of Deepwater, Baffle Creek, Rules Beach and Oyster Creek in central Queensland.

The alert, issued mid-afternoon, was in response to a wind change that pushed the fire front back in the direction of those townships.

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A QFES spokesman said the wind change to the northeast came two hours earlier than anticipated.

“Unfortunately we were hoping for ideal wind conditions to push the fire north, away from that area,” the spokesman said.

He said the major concern was not the existing bushfire, but instead strong winds blowing live embers ahead of the fire front and creating new blazes kilometres closer to communities.

The weather in the region has been unpredictable. Northeasterly winds took hold at 10.30am, much earlier than the forecasted time of 1pm, prompting emergency services to renew their calls for evacuation in Deepwater, Baffle Creek, Rules Beach and Oyster Creek.

Residents remaining in the vicinity of the emergency alert received voice telephone and mobile text messages urging them to take precautions.

Earlier, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the bushfires were of “the likes we’ve never seen in Queensland”.

About 40 fires were burning around the state, but the current inferno at Deepwater and Baffle Creek, located between Bundaberg and Gladstone, was the worst — even more extreme than the blaze that destroyed homes near Rockhampton in 2009.

At least two homes were destroyed overnight, other properties damaged and hundreds of residents have been forced to leave their homes as the intense fire, with 12m high flames, burns. No injuries have been reported.

Member for Gladstone Glenn Butcher announced on Facebook that a 737 water bomber had been deployed from Sydney to fight the fires.

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“Latest news, a 737 water bomber has been deployed from Sydney to help fight the wild fire at Agnes, Baffle Creek and Deepwater,” he wrote.

“Big thank you also to the NSW Government for assisting by sending 100 firies tomorrow morning on site.”

The massive fire had torn through about 11,000ha of land by this morning, causing the evacuation of about 800 people.

An emergency situation was declared yesterday by police, as officers, fire crew personnel, volunteers and SES workers spent hours going from door to door ensuring the people of Deepwater and Baffle Creek, located between Bundaberg and Gladstone, knew to leave.

While the fires are being monitored carefully, winds are expected to change later today, turning the fire back around towards Deepwater and Baffle Creek.

“These conditions are of the likes we’ve never seen in Queensland,” Premier Palaszczuk.

A community meeting for residents of Deepwater and Baffle Creek will take place in Miriam Vale at midday.

Another meeting with take place at Agnes Water at 6pm.

People have been told they do have time to enact a bushfire plan this morning, with lighter winds than yesterday. But those conditions are expected to worsen in the afternoon.

Further evacuations are expected around Agnes Water today.

“This is one fire with several other fires below it and we are expecting those fires to shift over the week,” QFES Commissioner Katarina Carroll said.

“It is unprecedented in many ways. But I’m very comfortable with the way we’re dealing with the situation.”

Gladstone Mayor Matt Burnett this morning said one property in the Deepwater area was “completely lost” and another was “30-40 per cent taken” by the fire, with a further three properties affected and multiple sheds as well. The Queensland Fire and Emergency Services have since confirmed two homes have been destroyed.

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Cr Burnett said the fire safety message remained the same.

“If you’re in the Baffle Creek, Deepwater and Rules Beach area it is still time to evacuate,” he said.

“The rules and messages haven’t changed. We need you to leave that area immediately and if you can’t go visit friends and family come to either the Miriam Vale Community Centre or Agnes Water Community Centre.

“We have the two places open if you can’t stay with friends or family.”

It comes after a QFES spokeswoman last night told The Courier-Mail that a caravan was among properties affected

Firefighters this morning said “many properties are still potentially at risk”.

Mr Burnett this morning reiterated the need for residents of Deepwater, Baffle Creek and Rules Beach to evacuate now if they hadn’t already done so. Conditions eased slightly overnight as fire crews battled to bring the fire within containment lines but conditions are expected to worsen again today as temperatures and winds increase.

Assistant commissioner of the QFES John Watson this morning said while the winds were expected to ease slightly it would be “hotter and drier … we’re expecting another difficult day”.

He said the fire had been “extremely difficult” to fight.

“It’s been a very difficult three days for us, since Friday, with the weather not abating at all,” he said.

He said the fire was travelling north and encouraged residents of Agnes Water and 1770 to keep up to date with conditions and take precautions if need be.

Authorities yesterday warned this blaze was not the “run of the mill fire” and urged residents not to be complacent.

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They described it as “dangerous and unpredictable” and warned it could have a “significant impact on the community”.

One Deepwater resident described the fire as “horrific”.

“Everything was just red, it was so red,” they told media.

“My clothesline, probably 100m away from my backdoor … I couldn’t even see my clothes line.

“We knew the fire was right on us, we could hear it, we could see it. Then all of a sudden my phone went off and it said ‘Evacuate Now’.”

Police have advised Wartburg State School at Baffle Creek is closed due to the blaze.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk yesterday described the blaze as “unusual for Queensland” and warned the “worst is not over”.

“The intensity of this fire covers some 9000ha and the flames are more than 10 to 12m high,” she said.

“We expect this to be happening for a few more days, but it is very important that all residents take this issue extremely seriously.

“I urge all families to look after one another and please evacuate immediately.”

QFES Commissioner Katarina Carroll said about 600 people were expected to evacuate from the Deepwater Creek community, as well as an additional 200 residents from nearby Baffle Creek.

An evacuation centre has been established at Miriam Vale Community Centre on Blomfield Street.

At least 100 fire officers were on the ground yesterday, accompanied by 42 trucks and six aircraft.

“This really is a very unusual fire,” Ms Carroll said.

“We have not seen this in this part of the world before.”

Residents of the Round Hill area, just southwest of 1770 have been given warning that they may have to leave their homes.

A Queensland Fire and Emergency Services statement released this morning said that residents of the township should be “ready to leave,” since conditions could deteriorate quickly.


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