23 October 2023

Total fire ban extended as some residents warned they may need to abandon their homes

| Sarah Martin
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volunteers battling fire

Marton Rural Fire Brigade fire warden Tony Holmes with other volunteers battling the blaze at Cameron Creek Road.

With hundreds of thousands of hectares of the Cape burnt out, fires threatening homes and smoke invading communities, Queensland Fire and Emergency Services has extended an unprecedented total fire ban for the entire Cape for another week.

While fire bans were usually put in place across a single local government area, QFES regional manager Lawrence Laing said the fire ban affected the entire Northern region from Cardwell west to Croydon and north to the Torres Straits, with resources stretched to breaking point.

“This is uncommon, we have had fire bans on local government areas before, but not the whole region,” Mr Laing said.

“We’re utilising all our resources on the current fires, and with no decent rainfall predicted any time soon, we can’t afford to have more fires burning.”

Western Cape Rural Fire Brigade fire warden Steve Fairbrother said a deliberately lit blaze that had already decimated more than 300,000 ha continued to burn virtually unchecked, and would probably take out the same amount of country before it stopped.

“We were fighting a 17 km fire front on Watson River Station, but luckily with the Watson River crew on the grader widening their fire break, along with the Western Cape Rural Fire Brigade, we were able to keep it at bay,” Mr Fairbrother said.

While Watson River Station is safe for now, the fire continues to burn and QFES has issued multiple warnings for nearby Aurukun as thick smoke blankets the community.

Watson River Station manager Russell Scikluna said his team’s early burns and other control measures, including fire breaks, had been instrumental in keeping the fire off their property.

“Every fire is a bit different, and the embers can fly a long way, but this time the measures we put in place and the Western Cape Rural Brigade’s help stopped it coming onto our property,” Mr Scikluna said.

The fire ban is in place for the local government areas of Aurukun, Cook, Douglas, Hope Vale, Kowanyama, Lockhart River, Mapoon, Napranum, Northern Peninsula Area, Pormpuraaw, Torres, Weipa, Wujal Wujal, Cairns, Yarrabah, Cassowary Coast, Mareeba, Tablelands, Croydon and Etheridge.


Thick smoke from the Cameron Creek Road fire, just past Cooktown’s airport, was visible for kilometres.

Meanwhile, a fire-bombing chopper and multiple rural fire brigade volunteers joined residents to battle a blaze between Cameron Creek and Barrett’s Creek roads just north of Cooktown on Saturday.

Marton Rural Fire Brigade fire warden Tony Holmes, speaking from the fire truck on Monday on his way back to a flare-up, said the blaze threatened multiple homes over the weekend, with QFES warning residents to get ready to abandon their homes on Sunday afternoon.

“We’ve been fighting it from Saturday morning until now,” Mr Holmes said.

“We thought we had it under control about 4 pm yesterday, but at this stage it’s flared back up again.

Mr Holmes said it had been “touch and go” for several Cameron Creek Road properties and the Sporting Shooters Association Cape York gun club, but so far no structures had been burnt.

The blaze jumped Cameron Creek Road on Saturday afternoon, threatening to take off along the northern side of Endeavour Valley Road, before being wrestled under control by the Cooktown Auxiliary Brigade, and volunteer rural fire crews from Barrett’s Creek, Poison Creek, Marton and Bloomfield, with support from a fire-bombing helicopter.

“It jumped Cameron Creek Road again on Sunday after lunch and we got it under control again, but I don’t know what is going to happen today,” Mr Holmes said.

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