From the ashes: Secret report casts doubt over cause of fire that razed Binna Burra

A devastating Gold Coast bushfire that razed the iconic Binna Burra Lodge and destroyed vast tracts of world heritage-listed national park may have been caused by shots being fired at a makeshift bushland shooting range, a new report suggests.

Feb 04, 2022, updated Feb 04, 2022
A koala and her joey were rescued by firefighters close to Binna Burra Lodge (pic: Jimboomba Police)

A koala and her joey were rescued by firefighters close to Binna Burra Lodge (pic: Jimboomba Police)

The report, by senior Queensland Fire and Emergency Services investigator Bruno Greimel that was obtained by the ABC under Right to Information laws, puts the cause of the blaze at odds with official findings that it was an accident caused by a discarded cigarette.

Greimel’s report also questions the Office of the Inspector General of Emergency Management’s review that the response to the blaze was “highly effective in saving property and reducing the severity of the Sarabah fire and other blazes”.

Instead, Greimel found examples of mistakes including one incident where firefighters left one containment point during the fire, logging it as “under control”. However, the fire flared again and joined other fires running out of control.

In August 2019, during one of the nation’s most devastating fire disasters, wildfires ripped through the World Heritage Listed Lamington National Park, destroying the historic Binna Burra lodge, cabins and 11 homes in nearby Beechmont.

The blaze started in the Sarabah Valley, about 30 kilometres west of the Gold Coast. As the crisis unfolded, the fire twisted and turned, threatening the township of Canungra before charging towards the historic 32-hectare Binna Burra retreat in the Gondwana World Heritage listed ancient sub-tropical rainforest. The fire caused around $20 million in damage to the eco-tourism property alone.

Police launched an investigation after the fire and concluded in November 2019 that a discarded cigarette had likely sparked the blaze. Police determined the fire an accident and no charges were laid.

Greimel’s report, however, pointed to the discovery of the makeshift shooting range deep in bushland in the Sarabah Valley, where shotgun and rifle cartridges, metal targets, a bottle of mineral turpentine and two fire extinguishers were discovered, the ABC reported.

Greimel concluded that while no definite cause of ignition was determined, the most likely cause was “the result of shooting on the property”.

Binna Burra Lodge chairman Steve Noakes said the information in the new report was vital to piecing together what had happened.

“This is new information that we need to have a close study of and look at the implications of this new information,” Noakes said.

“We’d like to know exactly what happened and the causes of the fire. We need time to digest the new information and any implications there might be in terms of what’s occurred at Binna Burra lodge,” he told ABC Gold Coast.

Noakes said the new findings raised questions about the “mismatch in reporting between Queensland police and the Fire and Emergency Services.”

He also questioned why the QFES report had not been released.

“It’s two and a half years almost since the bushfires, and this is information that we’re just receiving now. It has to raise the questions as to why we weren’t alerted to it as a bush fire victim earlier than this time,” he said.

“Why do we need this information? It helps us come to terms with the devastation that occurred. It helps us understand the causes of the fire. It may also help us better understand the implications of the recovery process, especially if there are any issues of liability that we need to address.

“And we need to be able to continuously learn from the experience because this type of bushfire, while it was very unusual for our part of south-east Queensland, it’s quite possible that it might become more common over the next decades so the more we can document and learn from that disaster in 2019, it means out current generations or future generations will be better prepared.”


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