AUSTRALIA – “Highly unusual” bushfires in Australia have broken out during the wet season, forcing hundreds of people to evacuate their homes.
More than 70 fires are burning amid an “unprecedented” heatwave in Queensland, with the largest blaze extending more than 60km in length.
The fire has burnt through approximately 17,000 hectares in the Deepwater National Park, destroyed two homes and damaged several others.
Most of the other fires are being contained, Queensland Fire and Emergency Services said.
The state government has enacted a disaster declaration for the state’s Gladstone region, meaning emergency services could force people to evacuate from areas deemed to be at risk.
Residents may not be able to return home for at least three days.
The declaration comes amid warnings the fire threat is set to intensify on Tuesday due to an “extreme heatwave” combined with strong winds predicted for central and northern Queensland.
By Monday afternoon local time, 100 firefighters were tackling the blaze, with 100 more arriving from New South Wales on Tuesday.
Among six water-bombing aircraft was a Boeing 737 aerial tanker that can dump 15,000 litres of water at a time, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported.
Annastacia Palaszczuk, the premier of Queensland, said the conditions had become worse than what the state experienced in 2009.
She said: “We’ve got temperatures in our state between six and 10 degrees higher than we’ve ever seen before at this time of year.
“We also have large westerlies coming through, we expect dust storms later on in the week and some thunderstorms that may not actually bring rain.
“We have more than 70 wildfires throughout our state.”
One couple described their escape from the encroaching fire.
“We didn’t think we were going to get out — I reckon another five minutes and we would’ve been dead because we couldn’t breathe,” said Bob Wait, who left with his wife and two dogs, but leaving behind 13 horses, cattle and poultry, the ABC reported.
Intense bushfires in Queensland are much less common than in the drier south of the country, and are all the more rare in November, which is the summer wet season, running from November until April.
Queensland Fire and Emergency Services commissioner Katarina Carroll said: “The next seven days are extremely concerning for us. I ask everyone to listen to authorities and heed the warnings and to date, thankfully there have been no recorded injuries.”
“In this part of the world we have not experienced these conditions before,” she said. “It is unprecedented.”
The regions affected include Baffle Creek, Wartburg, Deepwater, Agnes Water, Round Hill, Miriam Vale and Bororen.