Confronting, eerie and soul-destroying was how emotional residents of Deepwater, south of Gladstone, described their once-pristine bushland as they arrived back after days away from home due to the bushfire emergency.
- Returning Deepwater residents happy homes survived but upset by national park loss
- Bob and Debbie Wait said they have never seen such an intense fire
- MP Stephen Bennett criticised Deepwater vegetation management
At least 45,000 hectares of land has been scorched in the central Queensland community, with firefighters telling locals during the emergency that the flames reached 20 metres high.
Inside the isolated region impacted by the Deepwater bushfire, the communities of Rules Beach and Baffle Creek appear to have been spared, but the firestorm took its toll on Deepwater itself.
It is prompting some to question local forestry management, and to call for the construction of a second access road into the area.
Flames came perilously close to dozens of homes along the coastal hamlet.
Several sheds were lost in the blaze and what was once lush vegetation is now fields of scorched land and smouldering logs.
Residents have begun assessing the damage to their properties with the Salvation Army, State Emergency Service (SES) and local government on standby to offer help from a community hub set up at Baffle Creek.
Upon their return, many were thankful to find their livestock and pets hungry but still safe.
The local service station and convenience store were not damaged in the blaze, allowing residents to collect supplies and restock.
The unprecedented fire has prompted calls from some residents for more access roads in and out of the region.
‘It was just terrifying’
Bob and Debbie Wait came incredibly close to losing everything.
Mrs Wait said it had been an intense and scary 10 days since they were evacuated to Miriam Vale.
“We’ve been through fires but we have never been through anything like that. It was just terrifying.”
Mr Wait said they had been in the bush all their life and had seen many fires, but none like last week’s inferno that was out of control on Wednesday last week, when the fire threat was deemed to be catastrophic.
“We drove out Sunday afternoon and the smoke and the roar of the fire was so frightening.”
The fire came roaring through Deepwater towards their home, destroying farm equipment but stopping short of their house.
“We have got some damage, but our house and shed and everything is fine, unlike so many others,” Mr Wait said.
Deepwater SES coordinator Dan Dorrington said weary residents had been slow to return since the area was deemed safe on Tuesday, but more turned up on Wednesday.
Volunteers who have been hailed as heroes for their work on the fire ground remained on the job to help the community settle back in.
“Wouldn’t call us heroes, it’s just one of the things we are prepared to do,” Mr Dorrington said.
“That’s why we volunteer with the SES. We are exhausted, yes, but we won’t stop.
“This is our community and naturally we’re going to do everything we can to support them and we’ll stay here as long as we can.”
Forest management under fire
Residents were joined by the Member for Burnett, Stephen Bennett, who was upset to learn how much of the pristine national park had been destroyed.
“People love this part of the world and to see so much of it destroyed there is a lot of soul searching going on,” he said.
“I think there are questions into the future about what the protection of state managed assets look like.”
Mr Bennett said people were right to question why thick bushland in the national park had not been burnt off in recent years.
“They’re absolutely right and I am quite furious about what has happened in Queensland over the last 25, 30 years under management,” Mr Bennett said.
“Deepwater I am told for 15 years has not had any treatments at all.
“Let’s have a conversation, a mature debate about what is going to happen.
“If it is climate change you cannot exclude and should not exclude fire management strategies.
“This Queensland has been burning and Queenslanders need to be asking why.”
The Waits said Deepwater residents needed another road out of the area in case of another fire emergency.
“We’ve got one way out, if the fire had have started here and went that way we’d have possibly all been dead,” he said.
“We’ve asked and asked, and in 2016 we were told we would have a road through the national park by Christmas.”
Topics: bushfire, emergency-incidents, regional, deepwater-4674, rockhampton-4700, bundaberg-4670, brisbane-4000, qld
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