AUSTRALIA: CYCLONE Debbie has one last sting in her tail for Queensland, combining with record high temperatures to put swathes of southern and central Queensland in the bushfire firing line.
The latest bushfire forecast says record high average temperatures across the bottom quarter of Queensland will add to the fire risk created by Debbie stripping leaves and opening up forest canopies as she headed south from Proserpine to the NSW border and beyond.
Rural fire brigades have been issuing almost daily evacuation alerts up and down the Queensland coast as volunteers battle to contain blazes threatening homes and people.
A southern Australia hazard note released by the Bushfire and Natural Hazard Cooperative Research Centre last week warned of an above average bushfire risk in an area that almost exactly matches Debbie’s path south.
The rain she brought encouraged growth, but dry conditions since have turned that into fire fuel.
The stripped leaves have dried out and are ready to burn. The change to the forest also means there’s the potential for stronger and drier than normal winds through the trees and harder to stop bushfires.
Gladstone, Biloela, all of the Queensland north coast region including Maryborough, Kingaroy and Monto as well as Chinchilla, Toowoomba, Inglewood and the southeast are in the firing line.
In New South Wales, council areas of Ballina, Byron, Clarence Valley, Lismore, Tweed and Coffs Harbour are all on a “very high” rating by the Rural Fire Service.
“This rain has increased fuel growth and in some areas these fuels already (have) dried out and are available to burn,” the centre warns.
“Additionally winds associated with Debbie have stripped canopies of leaves, leaving the fuels below exposed to sunlight where they would normally be in shade.
“These leaves are now suspended as elevated or near surface fuels.
“This damage to the canopy also changes the wind field so that any fires in these areas will be exposed to higher velocity winds, as well as drier air compared to normal.”