“HEROES SAVE US” – That’s the headline on our local Noosa paper, superimposed over a dramatic photograph of a lone firefighter directing a puny stream of water from a hose into an advancing wall of flame at the small Sunshine Coast town of Peregian Beach.
It’s a term which can be over-used, along with “amazing” and “miraculous,” but in this case, all totally accurate. In a scene straight out of Dante’s Inferno, flames and embers fanned by winds gusting to 50 knots suddenly threatened thousands of homes at Peregian Beach and other coastal centres to the north towards Noosa, during the week.
While the firies put their lives on the line to save homes, a couple of motorcycle cops and others in a car braved the flames sweeping across access roads to rouse residents from their beds in some cases, and direct them to safety. Their bodycam footage dramatically showed just how horrendous the situation was, as the load hailer message “evacuate now” filled the night air.
From our coastal home only about six kilometres from the fire front, my wife and I could see the glow lighting the sky. We were receiving fire emergency text messages telling us to be prepared to leave: “Watch and act”.
That night we heard news reports that 10 homes had been lost at Peregian. A rumour that the service station in the small coastal village had been consumed by the flames hung heavy as we went to bed late for a worrying and mainly sleepless night.
Fortunately, as the next day dawned, we heard the previous night’s news had been clarified – only one home had been destroyed, another seriously damaged, and several others affected to some degree. No lives had been lost and the service station had been saved. Miraculous, with the flames sweeping across David Low Way, the access road connecting Peregian Beach with other coastal communities.
We were still in the firing line, the fire was still raging, but the strong, cold winds moved from north westerlies to south easterlies – better for us, but putting other settlements further inland around Lake Weyba/Weyba Downs at risk.
During the day, from our roof deck, we could see the constant stream of fire-fighting helicopters hovering in the smoke above the fire front and dumping their water loads, but the flames continued to advance through the extensive national park forests.
Then that afternoon the majestic converted Boeing 737 arrived from New South Wales and dumped its 15,000 litres of pink fire retardant ahead of the inferno and again, miraculously, within about an hour, we could literally see the thick plumes of smoke start to diminish. Hallelujah!
That night we slept more easily and as the week wound down it was pretty obvious that it was all over, as about 5,000 residents who had been forced to evacuate were allowed back to their homes among scorched earth and gardens.
The fire risk remains high and it is apparent how “touch and go” the situation was at the height of the emergency. The firies had drawn a defensive line in Peregian. Their very real fear was if the flames had skipped that, the dunal forest terrain to the north would sweep the flames right through Marcus and Castaways Beach onto Sunrise and beyond, potentially as far as the tourist mecca of Noosa. Catastrophe averted.
Not unexpectedly the fires here, in the Gold Coast hinterland, other parts of Queensland and New South Wales, have sparked the usual outcry from some media commentators and politicians blaming “climate change”. This includes the Greens’ Adam Bandt and even Jackie Trad, in her short role as Acting Queensland Premier.
Well, climate change doesn’t provide matches or lighters, and the real tragedy is that the Peregian fire and a number of others were deliberately lit. Two teenagers have been charged with starting the Peregian blaze and police have set up a special task force to investigate, with about 10 so far identified as having been maliciously or negligently ignited.
“Idiots” seems a mild term for the firebugs, given the risk to lives, property and defenceless slaughtered and maimed wildlife. While kids might be responsible for “accidentally” starting some fires, one has to wonder at the motivation of any adult or teenager old enough to know right from wrong. The punishment should fit the crime.
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