Here’s why it’s essential to completely extinguish a campfire

Lessons to learn from Fraser Island bushfires

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IT SEEMS incredible that a bushfire that escaped from an unattended campfire can have such an incredible impact not only on nature but also travellers, locals and tour operators.

By all accounts an illegal campfire in the Duling Camp Zone north of Waddy Head on the east coast of Fraser Island was to blame and while the campfire was found covered with sand it was still warm and the nearby vegetation was on fire.

I’m not a great lover of dumping sand on a campfire ever since I saw a young kid walk on the sand of a hidden campfire only to burn his feet rather badly. While the sand or soil will smother the flames, the fire will keep smouldering underneath much like an oven used to make charcoal; it does little to put the bloody thing completely out.

Water is by far the best way to extinguish a fire and should be used, where possible, in every circumstance.

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And the number of times we’ve come across an abandoned campfire where bugger all was done to put it out when the people were leaving, numbers in the dozens. Even if the fire seems to be out, coals or embers buried under the top layer of ash can easily flicker into life again, with just a light breeze fanning the flame. Then an attending spark, driven by the wind, can easily light up the nearby scrub.

I’m guessing that’s what happened up on Fraser. Four young men have been charged – other campers filmed and took notice of their vehicle rego, so rangers and police were able to track them down - and they will face court later in January.

ADVICE: Tips from a station owner

Police said that the four where ‘shocked and devastated’ as they never intended anything like the inferno to happen. But no matter what the excuse, they are to blame as Fraser Island has a very strict ‘No Campfires’ regime with only two camping areas - those at Dundubara and Waddy Point campgrounds - allowing campfires in fire-rings only.

Given the devastation that occurred from this campfire escape, maybe that will even change in the future!

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So, always make sure you douse your campfire with water, and that the coals and embers are cool to the touch before you leave – whether that’s for just a few hours, or for good.

In all the Fraser Island bushfire burnt around 87,000ha of the island’s 180,000ha, exacting a terrible toll on the region’s wildlife and flora, while also threatening homes and a number of small villages-come resorts on the island.

ADVICE: Do you know how to survive a bushfire?

At one stage Happy Valley residents were looking down the barrel of a holocaust taking out their small hamlet but luckily hazard reduction burns around the town earlier in the year was a ‘massive factor’ in stopping the flames with the local fire boss reportedly saying, ‘It’s amazing to see the fire racing towards the valley hit that block and stop.’

Now locals and tour operators are calling on a change in the management of the island and any subsequent fires and a report has been ordered by the Qld premier. Hopefully it’ll turn up something useful and not be another whitewash finding that blames climate change resulting in a not-our-fault situation where little is done regarding more hazard reduction burning and the like.

In the meantime campers everywhere - not just on Fraser - need to obey the rules and if they have a campfire making sure it is out before they leave. The consequences can be devastating!

 

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Ron Moon
Journalist

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