Four charged over fire that ravaged Australia’s Fraser Island

22 December 2020

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AUSTRALIA – Four men have been charged with unlawfully lighting fires on Queensland’s Fraser/K’gari Island, with more than half of the world heritage-listed site eventually scorched.

The men were charged on Monday after a joint investigation by Queensland police and the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service. They are all in their 20s and from the Warwick area, 130km south-west of Brisbane.

Police said park rangers were alerted to an illegal campfire on 14 October in the Duling Camp Zone of Eastern Beach, north of Orange Creek.

Rangers found a campfire that was covered in sand but was still warm. Vegetation nearby was on fire.

“This wildfire subsequently took hold and over the following weeks burned extensive parts of the World Heritage-listed island,” police said.

The fire burned about 87,000 hectares of the island, with firefighters dropping 3m litres of water and fire retardant during a nine-week battle to put it out.

But loose soil on the world’s largest sand island caused the liquids to drain away in inaccessible, bush-covered dunes where the fire burned on multiple fronts.

One front near the Kingfisher Bay Resort, on the western side of the island, forced the evacuation of guests and staff.

On the eastern side, the fire came dangerously close to properties in Happy Valley and Cathedrals but was beaten back.

Visitors were banned from the island during most of the firefighting effort.

K’gari, the island’s traditional name, attracts about 600,000 visitors a year. Tourists flock to its 250km of beaches, ancient sand dunes, rainforests, crystal clear creeks and dune lakes. It is about 250km north of Brisbane and covers more than 180,000 hectares.

A 24-year-old Warwick man was charged with the unlawful lighting of a fire and leaving a fire unattended. Two Rosenthal Heights men, aged 21 and 24, and a Massie man, 23, were each charged with the unlawful lighting of fires.

They will appear in the Hervey Bay magistrates court on 21 January. A 17-year-old boy will be dealt with under the Youth Justice Act 1992.

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