Fire and ice: Supercell storms lash Brisbane’s north while Fraser Island blaze rages on

Severe storms were threatening towns and suburbs north of Brisbane and on the Southern Downs this afternoon while the Fraser Island remains ablaze amid criticism of how the bushfire on the World Heritage-listed island has been managed.

Dec 07, 2020, updated Dec 07, 2020

A severe storm wreaked havoc on areas in and around Caboolture and Redcliffe, with large hail reported at Woodford and Bribie Island.

Scarborough, Narangba, Burpengary, Deception Bay waters and Beachmere were also hit.

Energex reported nearly 14,000 homes and businesses, mostly in the Moreton Bay region, were without power after the storms swept through.

The Bureau of Meteorology had warned “damaging, locally destructive winds, intense rainfall that may lead to dangerous and life-threatening flash flooding and large hailstones are likely”.

The storm had blown over shipping containers used for events at the Sandstone Point Hotel, according to Nine News reports

Another storm front was due to hit the Southern Downs towns of Stanthorpe and Applethorpe as well as Millmerran.

Meanwhile, a  large bushfire that “may pose a threat to all lives directly in its path” is less than a kilometre from the Fraser Island township of Happy Valley but most residents have chosen to stay to help defend their homes.

The fire was within a few hundred metres of Happy Valley early Monday afternoon as dozens of firefighters battle to save the township.

The fire has already destroyed half the world heritage-listed island and Queensland Fire and Emergency Services director Brian Cox says 90 firefighters and 24 water-bombing aircraft are defending the township.

Happy Valley’s 50 residents were urged to leave immediately with the QFES warning the blaze “may pose a threat to all lives directly in its path”.

People have also been told to prepare to leave the Kingfisher Bay Resort and Village about 20km southwest.

Cox says backburning around Happy Valley’s outskirts and continuous waterbombing runs would hopefully turn the tide.

But he warned heatwave conditions were set to persist in the “tinder-dry environment” all week.

“We are preparing for the worst type of thing and we’re going to try to hit it with everything we have got today, we are pulling out all stops,” he told ABC TV.

Only about 10 residents opted to leave the area with the rest staying on to protect their homes.

The QFES director said most were actually trained or volunteer firefighters and emergency responders would protect them.

Elspeth Murray from the Happy Valley Community Association said overnight humidity and a drop in the wind had slowed the fire front, but 30km/h winds were expected later on Monday.

“It will be coming at us with a vengeance,” she told Nine’s Today program.

Murray is staying to defend her home in Happy Valley, and says locals have been preparing for severe bushfires for 18 months.

She said the community has worked on hazard reduction and built fire breaks under the direction of a resident who is a former Queensland Rural Fire Service inspector with 30 years experience.

Murray said the safety of the beach was only 200m away if conditions deteriorate.

“No one is being stupid, we know what we are doing,” she said.

“We have been well-schooled in what often will burn down towns like ours – it’s not the flames coming straight at us, but the ember attacks that happen and light up unattended property. So every home has been well and truly cleaned of leaf matter.

“Our garden is looking a lot greener than it should at this time of year only because we have been watering it solidly for the last three weeks to ensure that we don’t have dry grass around. Neighbours have looked after neighbours here.”

The NSW Rural Fire Service large air tanker, the Marie Bashir, is also flying to Queensland to help with water bombing efforts.

The plane can drop up to 15,000 litres on each run, while Queensland’s leased air tanker can drop 10,000 litres at a time.

Cox said having both large tankers along with other waterbombing aircraft would be a boost to firefighting efforts.

“We hope that the million litres of water we dropped yesterday will again be dropped today on that particular township area, and can hopefully save that town,” he said.

The fire on Fraser Island, also known as K’gari, has been burning since mid-October.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk defended the management of the fire and said it was in the capable hands of the Queensland Fire and Emergency Service.

She rejected criticism that the Queensland Department of Parks and Wildlife should have done more to prevent the blaze, saying they had done more work this year than in previous years.

“Initially the parks service were very comfortable with managing that fire,” she said during an estimates hearing.

“When they were uncomfortable with managing it, it got immediately moved into the fire service and the Commissioner then takes over the lead.

“There were discussions that were happening between the two but when it was deemed to be becoming a fire of significance, it then gets transferred as per the protocols.”

Palaszczuk said she had received regular updates from her departmental Director-General on the blaze.

“Everyone is concerned about what is happening on Fraser,” she said.

“We have unusually high temperatures at the moment … and the winds have been changing dramatically.”

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