Ominous warning: ‘This is the new normal’
QUEENSLAND is facing its most catastrophic bushfire season "in recorded history", with conditions prime for fires to rip across the southeast, decimating homes and taking lives in scenes the state's never seen before.
Authorities delivered the ominous warning that suburbs never before threatened could burn as record-breaking temperatures and tinderbox conditions from far north Queensland to the NSW border fuelled 73 fires last night.
Residents in Binna Burra were told by authorities late Sunday night to prepare to leave after a "life threatning" fire tore through the area, promting a 'seek shelter' warning.
Twenty-one properties, including 15 homes and the historic Binna Burra Lodge, have been lost since Thursday.
That compares with 40 properties lost across the entire state to bushfires in the past 130 years.
But worse could be in store, with dry and hot conditions set to intensify and no dampening rains forecast over the next three months as severe fire conditions stretch from Rockhampton down to the NSW border and west to Warwick.
In addition, severe water shortages on the Darling Downs and Granite Belt could impact the availability of water for fire suppression.
Queensland Fire and Emergency Services Inspector Andrew Sturgess yesterday delivered his sobering predictions to a meeting of the Queensland Disaster Management Committee, also attended by Acting Premier Jackie Trad.
He pointed to extraordinary fire danger ratings for spring, temperature records 10 degrees hotter than usual for early September and the bleak chance of rainfall over the days, weeks and months ahead.
"We've never see fire danger indices, fire danger ratings, at this time of the year as we're seeing now," he said.
"Never seen this before in recorded history.
"Fire weather has never been as severe this early in spring.
"So this is an omen if you will, a warning of the fire season that we're likely to see ahead in the southeastern parts of the state."
The man charged with predicting and planning for each bushfire season told The Courier-Mail Queenslanders should start preparing for the types of fires that regularly devastate southern states as the impacts of climate change took hold decades earlier than expected.
"In Victoria and NSW, you expect to lose houses each year, we lose lives there, we don't see that in Queensland," he said.
"But we've lost 15 houses in the first week or September.
"We should be expecting that because it's in the southeast, that's where the population is.
"You need to be thinking about fire (affecting your home) where you may not have been thinking about fire in the past.
"This is the new normal."
He said vegetation that wasn't meant to burn, like rainforests, was now flammable thanks to the drier, hotter climate, putting more people at risk.
Acting Fire Commissioner Mike Wassing assured Queenslanders that emergency services were "absolutely ready" for the season ahead.
"We've been communicating the high risk particularly to central and southeast for some time now," he said.
"So absolutely we're ready and we've got significant capability and support from interstate resources should it be the case that we require that."
Up to 650 firefighters are currently deployed across the state and 27 aircraft are being used to drop water from above.
The main fires of concern were a huge blaze near the border towns of Applethorpe and Stanthorpe, and a bushfire in difficult terrain near Binna Burra in the Scenic Rim.
Commissioner Mike Wassing said there was still a lot of work to be done on the Stanthorpe/Applethorpe fire but it was not likely to threaten any further homes.
The very remote Binna Burra fire was also proving difficult to access but was also not expected to further threaten communities either.
"The challenges for us will extend at least until Wednesday whilst we continue to have this dry westerly air mass … and it's going to be a very long season for us ahead," he said.
Ten schools will be closed today due to the threat of bushfire and parents have been asked not to take their children to schools that remain open if the risk is too great.
Meanwhile, State Disaster Coordinator Steve Gollschewski said a deliberately-lit fire at Pimpama was being investigated.
"We will be relentless in trying to find you, so just don't do it," he said.