Help arrives for fatigued Queensland firefighters

Laine Clark |

A hospital almost had to be evacuated after bushfires flared in far north Queensland as interstate crews arrived to provide welcome relief.

Victorian firefighters are travelling throughout the state as recovery work begins at Tara where a deadly blaze west of Brisbane destroyed more Queensland houses than the 2019 Black Summer disaster.

However the focus on Wednesday quickly shifted north to the Atherton Tablelands near Cairns after a fast-moving fire forced people to flee.

Residents at Silver Valley and Watsonville have been told to evacuate as fires at one stage threatened nearby Herberton’s hospital.

“That’s an unfolding situation at the moment,” Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said.

“There were moves earlier that they may have needed to evacuate the Herberton hospital but that has now not had to happen which is due to the amazing work … by our men and women firefighters.”

Smoke from a bushfire is seen south of Warwick,
Crews are still battling a ferocious blaze on the Southern Darling Downs amid extreme conditions.

Another concern is the Southern Downs border town of Dalveen, near Warwick, where 30 rural properties were evacuated.

Residents in the region were on high alert after Queensland and NSW firefighters joined forces late on Tuesday to save nearby Wallangarra, where homes were destroyed and power is yet to be restored.

About 50 Wallangarra residents evacuated across the border to the NSW town of Tenterfield.

A thousand firefighters were battling more than 80 fires across Queensland on Wednesday.

There have been more than 900 fires across the state in the past fortnight.

The premier said 84 Victorian firefighters were travelling to southwest and central Queensland and New Zealand would send another 27 in the coming days.

Some are expected at the Tara fire which has claimed a life and burnt more than 20,000 hectares in the past week but was behind containment lines on Wednesday.

Tara bushfire evacuee Joanne Hill
Almost 300 people were forced to flee the Tara fire with about 60 still at evacuation centres.

“It will go on record as having burnt the most number of homes across Queensland in any one fire – it is a real tragedy,” Western Downs Mayor Paul McVeigh told AAP.

“It’s good to have support because fatigue is really starting to set in for a lot of people here.”

To date it has destroyed 58 homes, nine more than the Black Summer fires claimed across Queensland.

However crews were able to save 387 homes in the Tara area, the premier said.

Almost 300 people were forced to flee the Tara fire with 42 still at the Dalby evacuation centre.

The recovery effort at Tara has begun, with residents in the region told they can “return with caution”.

Some people will be assessing their properties for the first time since the fires first struck last week.

Many have lost everything.

A waterbombing helicopter
Crews scrambled to help save Wallangarra, with a waterbombing helicopter playing a crucial role.

The premier said 50 housing support staff were assisting at Tara while caravans and temporary accommodation have been organised.

Queensland Reconstruction Agency CEO Jake Ellwood will visit affected areas next week.

“A lot of recovery work is now happening in relation to Tara,” Ms Palaszczuk said.

Residents have been able to avoid the Tara fire but have reported to Dalby hospital with respiratory issues due to smoke, she said.

A cool change is expected but firefighters have been told it could be days before they get a reprieve, with forecast storms threatening more blazes from lightning strikes.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese expects 42,000 claims to be made by Queenslanders for federal government funding through the disaster recovery payment and allowance.

Ms Palaszczuk said 677 people had already received emergency assistance from the state.

The Queensland government has also pledged $1 million toward a bushfire appeal.