Nov 25, 2023 | Local News

Mary Valley bushfires a timely warning for fire seasons ahead

Vivienne Wynter

While firefighters contained recent fires which burned hundreds of acres in Tuchekoi and Obi Obi, QFES and BOM say climate change will cause longer fire seasons and higher fire risks.

The cause of the two fires, in October-November, is not confirmed but Queensland Police say the Tuchekoi fire is being treated as suspicious while the Obi Obi fire is not.

Useful rain fell in late November but the risk of fires may return this summer or in future years. QFES says while Queensland’s fire season usually runs July to October, it can extend to February.

The Tuchekoi fire ground viewed from Kenilworth Skyring Creek Road near Imbil turnoff. PHOTO: Vivienne Wynter

Bushfire risk not over

Commenting in late November after the rain, Queensland Rural Fire Service chief superintendent, Tony Johnstone, told ABC News there was still a fire risk.

‘It (the rain) will probably help with trees and so on, but the grasses and weed dry up pretty quickly and … we’ll probably see some more fast running grass fires even after the rain,’ he said.

So with more fires likely, what are the lessons from the recent fires? Some residents affected by the Tuchekoi and Obi Obi fires realised too late they had not made their properties fully defendable. Others told The Pineapple they weren’t sure they knew enough to do the proper preparation.

The first major fires in the Mary Valley for decades caught some residents unprepared. PHOTO: Vivienne Wynter

If your plan is to stay and defend

Here’s a summary of how to make your property defendable when a fire’s approaching. It boils down to removing all flammable materials from around your home, sheds, fences and structures. The info below is provided by QFES, official sources and residents affected by recent fires.

  • Engage with your local Rural Fire Brigade. They will assess the fire risk of your property free of charge. Store phone numbers of your Rural Fire Brigade’s First Officer and Fire Warden.
  • Consider whether your property needs a hazard reduction burn which can be done with a permit from your local fire warden.
  • Create firebreaks between flammable material and your home and structures. Firebreaks should be 1.5 times the height of the tallest vegetation or 20m (whichever is wider).
  • Mow and slash grass and paddocks regularly during fire season. Use a catcher to collect cuttings.
  • Rake dead leaves and collect dead or fallen branches and twigs. Prune dead or dry branches from the tops of trees. Contractors will do this if you don’t have capacity.
  • Trim low-lying branches around your home to a height of two metres from the ground. Clear gutters and rooves of leaves, twigs, bark and any debris.
  • Move flammable items away from your home and structures (woodpiles, mulch, boxes, hanging baskets, and outdoor furniture).
  • Seal your property against fire embers. Install steel wire mesh screens on windows, doors, vents and weep holes. Seal gaps in external rooves and cladding. Enclose open areas under decks and floors.
  • Point LPG cylinder relief valves away from your house.
  • Have a generator to run hoses in a power outage. Check and maintain firefighting pumps, generators and water systems. You need enough hoses to reach all parts of your property you aim to defend.

Blackened fire grounds in the aftermath of the Tuchekoi fire. PHOTO: Supplied by resident

For more info on how to prepare for bushfires QFES has a detailed guide

For info on bushfire survival plans, warnings, fire bans, outdoor fires and travelling in Queensland check links below.

CASE STUDY: Obi Obi family dodged a bullet and learned a lot

An Obi Obi resident whose property was seriously threatened by the Obi Obi fire in October-November sees it as a ‘training fire’ because she learned so much.

‘The day the fire started, 31 October, we were shitting ourselves’, she said. ‘The fire was coming for us. It got to within 500 metres of our home.

‘There was a Prepare to Leave Warning. The kids were with friends and we were packing and getting ready to leave. We had water and pumps but were questioning whether to stay and defend because the terrain’s hard to access for back-burns or fire trucks. The wind kept changing.

‘We had done some preparation with firebreaks and checking access routes. We were constantly talking with neighbours about sharing access roads and we share keys.

‘We hadn’t done any hazard reduction burning. The fuel load was high and we were vulnerable, being on a north-west aspect.

‘We set up sprinkler systems and were prepared to turn on the taps and leave if we had to.

‘The Rural Fire Brigade assessed the property at 4.30 am the next morning and found it defendable due to the fire breaks and escape routes. That was a massive relief.

‘Through the rest of the week we had 21 rural fire trucks and one urban truck, Queensland Parks and Wildlife units and the SES here during back-burning all along our boundary with the national park.

Rural Fire Bridages were all hands on deck when an Obi Obi property was threatened by bushfire. PHOTO Landsborough Rural Fire Brigade

‘The back-burning gave us beautiful protection and our property was saved.

‘We would not be so lucky with a fire front coming from north-west.

‘We are more empowered about preparing for bushfires and will do a massive clean out and hazard reduction.

‘We feel less scared of fire now because we know what to do.

‘My advice to other residents is engage with your local Rural Fire Brigade. We wish we had contacted them earlier. We hadn’t had them assess our property because we felt intimidated. We thought they would be too busy and we might be told our property was not defendable.

Backburning protected properties threatened by the Obi Obi fire PHOTO Supplied by resident

‘I didn’t realise rural firies will actually make your property defendable. They welcome the chance to do hazard burns on residential properties as training in fire behaviour for new members and to reduce the risk.’

The resident said she ‘felt the warmth of generosity’ of the rural fire volunteers who attended the fire at her place.

‘They were very good at dealing with stressed out residents. A lot of them live on their own bush properties and understand the lifestyle.

‘A massive thank you to the Rural Fire Brigade volunteers who defended our property.’


FEATURE PHOTO AT TOP: Image of Tuchekoi fire supplied by Kenilworth Rural Fire Brigade


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