Professor Patrick Moss, a University of Queensland expert in ancient ecology, said that while large areas of the island were “fire adapted”, the rainforests around the Valley of the Giants and Central Station, along with its perched lakes (rainwater-fed lakes that sit on top of sand that’s been cemented together with decomposed vegetation) were of most concern.
“If the fire has gotten into those areas, that’s where it could do long-term damage,” Professor Moss said, pointing to the fire that tore through Binna Burra Lodge near the NSW border last year. “Rainforests don’t really burn.”
Professor Moss said the potential for such events to become more common under climate change was also a major concern.
Regional businesses, residents and tourists have questioned the speed at which resources were directed towards the fire, with Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s announcement of a review by the Inspector General Emergency Management labelled “well short of the mark” by the state opposition.
A Queensland Environment Department spokeswoman said the fire was a natural part of the island’s landscape, with planned burning by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service averaging 13,000 hectares – above the recommended 5 per cent.
The fire had been under the management of the QPWS, with support from fire authorities, before a management group including Queensland Fire and Emergency Services and the Butchulla Aboriginal Corporation was established on Friday as infrastructure came under increased threat.
QFES incident controller Superintendent James Haig said the group had been watching the fire’s downhill and low-intensity arrival in the Valley of the Giants “very closely”.
“It’s a wet sclerophyll [forest] so … we were hoping it would go through gently,” he said, noting the difficulty in even water-bombing the region, with its tall and tight canopy.
Mr Haig said the island’s “boggy” and remote sand tracks had also posed difficulties for about 75 personnel and more than 30 vehicles still on the ground.
An alert remained in place into Wednesday afternoon urging people to leave, as the fire moved towards the Kingfisher Bay Resort and Village, with winds lighter than expected.
Some of the 21 aircraft helping from above, including a large aerial tanker, had managed to begin to “steer” the fire around the popular destination overnight.
Air Fraser Island owner Troy Geltch said he felt for the fire crews and rangers on the ground battling the blaze even before the surge in support.
“I don’t believe it was their call to sit on it,” he said.
Matt Dennien is a reporter with Brisbane Times.