Nearly 90,000ha of Fraser Island’s — that sandy gem off the south-east coast of Queensland — total 184,000ha landmass has now been consumed by a series of ravaging bushfires.
The island is a long-time favourite for 4WDers, campers and fisherman, along with backpackers who revel in the island’s long sweeping beaches, rocky headlands, pristine rainforests, massive sand dunes and freshwater lakes. From numerous trips back in the late 1980s and early ‘90s, with my last sojourn just 18 months ago, I can tell you there is nothing quite like cruising up the long curve of ocean beach with the blue Pacific sending white lines of waves and foam running up towards you. It is pure magic!
The island is also a World Heritage area and part of the Great Sandy National Park jointly managed by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) and the Butchulla Aboriginal Corporation. This incredible place supports over 30 species of mammals, the most famous of which is their unique dingo population, claimed to be the purest population of these top-tier predators in Australia. There are also 350 species of birds, 60 odd reptiles and 17 frogs — pretty impressive for an island built entirely of sand.
The fire which has recently wreaked so much havoc across the island reportedly started from an illegal campfire north of Indian Head back on 14 October. It should be noted that all campfires are banned on the island, except for a couple of exceptions at the Dundubara camping areas and the top and beachfront campsites at the Waddy Point camping areas. The campfire was supposedly a cooking fire that wasn’t extinguished properly — something we should all be aware off when camping in the bush or on a beach!
Anyway, it seems little effort was made to stem the fire’s advance when it was a minor blaze and while initial efforts were supposedly under the direction of the Qld NPWS they have since been taken over by the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES). In more recent days water bombing aircraft, including ones from the NSW RFS, have been deployed, but as one spokesman indicated the island’s sandy nature which allows water to rapidly soak away, isn’t helping the firefighting effort.
As well the rugged terrain and lack of vehicle access has meant that fire crews are limited in where they can attack the flames, especially in the more remote northern section of the island. The Queensland government indicated some hazard reduction burns had been conducted before the onset of summer, but questions remain on how much area had been burnt and where.
Conditions eased after rain in early December, but the fire was still blazing, although the threat to Happy Valley and the Kingfisher resort has eased. Still, they are not out of the woods and it seems only more rain will actually put the fires out.
Already an investigation and review has been initiated by the Qld premier on the management of the situation, while some conservation groups have indicated that the response wasn’t good enough and that the management of the island must change and improve.
At this point, the fire’s ravaging effect on the islands wildlife and the dingo population remains unclear, and experts are worried that the island’s vegetation mix and vibrant wildlife will be changed forever. Still it seems the fires, while devasting, have had little impact on the rainforest areas and the giant satinays that are one of the highlight of the island’s diverse vegetation.
As we go to press the island is closed to visitors and tour operators have suspended their operations dealing a huge blow to the island’s economy after an incredibly difficult 2020. Hopefully, the fires will be extinguished soon, and the island open for campers and fisherman. It may take some time for the scars to heal and the verdancy to return, but as has been proven many times, the Australian environment is robust and resilient and recovers quickly from fire. We can only hope the magic that is Fraser Island will do the same!