Did Climate Change Cause World Heritage Listed Fraser Island to Burn?

Fraser IslandFraser IslandFraser Island
Fraser Island. Public Domain, link. Two vehicle ferry services operate from Rainbow Beach and a second location just south of Hervey Bay

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

In mid October, an illegal campfire on World Heritage Site Fraser Island caused a blaze which is still smouldering. Fraser Island is only 8 miles across – so questions are being asked, about why a tiny island connected to the mainland by two vehicle barge services, with a major airport capable of handling 747s nearby in Hervey Bay, within a few hours drive of the state capital Brisbane, was allowed to burn.

Fighting for Fraser Island: how tourism and climate change put an ancient environment at risk

Campaigners who helped end logging and mining in the spectacular paradise of lakes, rainforests and beaches now fear global heating

Before he died in February 2019, John Sinclair had been fighting for Fraser Island off the Queensland coast for the best part of 50 years.

In the early 1970s the world’s biggest sand island – an ethereal paradise of lakes, towering rainforests and ancient dunes – was under pressure from sand mining and more than a century of logging.

By 1976, Sinclair and his purpose-built Fraser Island Defenders Organisation (Fido) had fought off the sand miners. It took another 15 years for the logging to stop.

Two months ago, an illegal campfire on the island got out of control. With drier than usual conditions and high temperatures, the blaze has so far scorched 85,000 hectares – more than half the island.

What would John Sinclair have made of the devastation?

“He’d probably have said: I told you this would happen,” his son Keith tells the Guardian. “He’d say: What are we going to do to make sure it won’t happen again?”

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/dec/11/fighting-for-fraser-island-how-tourism-and-climate-change-put-an-ancient-environment-at-risk

However some people are not quite so ready to blame the failure to control the blaze on our climate sins.

Queensland Premier defends Fraser Island bushfire management as blaze continues to threaten Happy Valley

By Rachel Riga and staff

An emergency bushfire warning was issued for the fire on Sunday with residents in the island town of Happy Valley advised to “leave immediately”.

Water bombing did not commence until November 14 — about one month after the fire started.

LNP spokesman for fire and emergency services Dale Last said the State Government needed to answer serious questions over the fire’s management.

“These fires have caused shocking damage, but what’s more shocking is the silence from Fire Minister Mark Ryan,” he said.

“He needs to front up. He needs to explain what the Government knew about fire warnings and why they were ignored.

“Queenslanders deserve to know what the Government could have done to prevent the spread of this fire.

“This is a World Heritage-listed site that has been treated appallingly from a weak minister who is failing to take any responsibility for this unfolding disaster.”

Steve Knight, the owner of a retreat in beachside town of Happy Valley, told ABC Radio Brisbane some residents were frustrated that more resources were not put towards fighting the fire earlier.

“I don’t think anyone thought this one would get to where it is now and in fact I’m really annoyed that they didn’t pile the resources they’re applying to it now to it much earlier,” he said.

“They could have stopped this in its tracks a long time ago in my view but I’m not a fireman and it’s not my department.”

Read more: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-12-07/qld-fraser-island-bushfire-management/12957056

Fraser Island is a narrow strip of land surrounded by sea.

A single bulldozer could have cut a large fire break across the entire island in a few days. A marine fire fighting barge could have flooded the fire with millions of litres per day of sea water, with a maximum hose length of 4 miles (half the 8 mile width of the island), well within the capabilities of modern mine pumping or fire fighting equipment.

But all of these decisions would have required facing down green radicals opposed to any firefighting measure which might damage or contaminate the word heritage listed forest.

So instead they sat on their hands until the fire was totally out of control, and let the island burn to a crisp.

Now they are trying to blame climate change for the catastrophic consequences of their failure to respond in a timely and appropriate manner.

Note I am not disparaging the efforts of the firefighters on the ground. Within their apparently appalling rules of engagement they worked their butts of to save lives and homes, I heard at least one was hospitalised for heat exhaustion.

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December 12, 2020 at 08:38PM

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