Queensland police say a discarded cigarette likely sparked the bushfire which destroyed 11 homes and the historic Binna Burra Lodge in the Gold Coast hinterland in September.
- 51-year-old man charged with lighting bushfire in the NSW northern tablelands ‘to protect a cannabis crop’
- A Commonwealth Bank lawyer was charged after allegedly throwing a lit firework into inner-Sydney bushland
- Fires in the state have already burned three times more land this bushfire season than in the entire of the last
A 51-year-old man has been charged with lighting an out-of-control fire in the NSW Northern Tablelands in order to protect his cannabis crop.
The fast-moving blaze at Guyra Road in Ebor, northeast of Armidale, was burning across more than 2000ha on Friday afternoon as it spread towards the Ebor township.
The man was arrested just after 2pm on Friday in Ebor and charged with intentionally cause fire and be reckless to its spread.
Police will allege in court the man lit the fire as an attempt at a backburn to protect a cannabis crop and made no attempt to control the blaze. They also allege he hoped to benefit from government payments in the recovery after the fire.
He was refused bail to appear at Armidale Local Court on Saturday.
His arrest brings the number of people accused of starting fires in NSW to four.
Two teenage boys are accused of lighting a fire with paper, dry leaves, vegetation and a cigarette lighter on the NSW Far North Coast.
And yet unknown Senator Steele-John, who represents Western Australia, let rip in the Senate on Tuesday during debate on the federal government’s proposed laws cracking down on energy companies.
“How dare any of you suggest that in this moment at this time it is appropriate to be prosecuting a piece of legislation with the aim of propping up coal,” he told the chamber.
“You are no better than a bunch of arsonists – borderline arsonists – and you should be ashamed.”
Despite objections from Labor frontbencher Murray Watt, Senator Steele-John refused to withdraw his comments, insisting they were true.
“For Senator Steele-John to refer to members of this chamber as arsonists on the very day that we are told by fire chiefs that we are seeing conditions that this country has never seen before is beyond offensive,” Senator Watt said.
He called for the Greens to reflect on “political point-scoring” they were engaging in as fires raged across Australia.
Senator Steele-John argues the so-called “big stick” laws will help keep outdated coal-fired power stations open and contribute to climate change.
He said the fires were not a natural disaster because humans were contributing to climate change by burning coal.
“There will come a time when the Australian community shall look back on this moment and ask what we were doing to help as they were fighting fires on the front,” the Greens senator said.
His furious spray is the latest escalation in an increasingly fierce climate change debate which has been inflamed by bushfires.
Greens MP Adam Bandt has blamed the unprecedented bushfires and “catastrophic” fire risk across two states on climate change, and even suggested Prime Minister Scott Morrison is partly responsible due to the government’s lack of action.
- Police reveal the Binna Burra fire, that destroyed the historic Lodge and 11 houses, was caused by a discarded cigarette
- Police will not lay charges against the two teenagers, aged 17 and 19
- Fines apply in Queensland for people caught tossing cigarette butts
Officers said two local teenagers — aged 17 and 19 — had been questioned about the incident and detectives had determined the fire was an accident.
“A prosecution will not be commenced against those persons … they are afforded privacy just like anyone else in their position,” a QPS spokesperson said.
Last week, police stated they would not reveal what sparked the blaze as they feared those responsible could be vilified in the small, tight-knit community.
Do not be an accidental arsonist
Binna Burra Lodge chairman Steve Noakes welcomed the police decision to be more transparent with the community.
“It’s nice to know the actual cause of it,” he said.
“Maybe it helps to get the message out about how super careful we all have to be at this time, right across Australia with this terrible bush fire season we’re having.”
Mr Noakes said it was a particular reminder to smokers to be vigilant with cigarette butts.
“Such a small simple mistake can have such severe impacts on people and their lives,” he said.
“People really have to take so much care not to act recklessly with anything that can cause a little tiny fire that can grow into a large devastating bushfire.”
Mr Noakes believed most of the community will accept the decision not to reveal the identities of the teenagers involved.
“We respect the decision of police, we know they’re acting in the best interest of the community.”
Queensland introduced laws for dangerous littering in 2011, for litter that is likely to cause harm to a person, property or the environment.
It includes throwing a lit cigarette butt onto dry grass in high fire danger conditions, and individuals can be fined $533.
Queensland bushfire evacuee describes burning mountain — police charge alleged arsonist
Police say a 16-year-old boy has been charged with starting a Central Queensland bushfire that has destroyed 14 homes, as firefighters concentrate on strengthening containment lines and extinguishing existing fires before the weather deteriorates over the weekend.
- Cooler temperatures and easing winds may help firefighters get the upper hand
- Forecaster Michael Knepp says it is a brief respite before conditions deteriorate into the weekend
- QFES has likened the six-day fire emergency to “a marathon with a number of sprints”
The charge relates to the Cobraball fire, west of Yeppoon, said state disaster coordinator and Deputy Police Commissioner Steve Gollschewski.
“This investigation’s been ongoing since the start of the fire, so we’ve had an avenue of investigation that we’ve been pursuing,” he said.
Seventy-five bushfires were still burning across the state on Thursday, with seven watch and act warnings in place.
They include “leave now” advice for the communities of Thornside, near Gympie, as well as Walkers Point Road and Kinkuna, which are both affected by the same Woodgate fire.
Fire crews have begun their investigation to determine the cause of the Noosa North Shore blaze, as residents this afternoon returned home to the island.
Sunshine Coast rural fire area director Andrew Allan said he could already conclude the fires were man-made and deliberate.
He said they had already pinpointed the point of origin — the side of a road in a fairly secluded area.
“It is absolutely [arson], there is no doubt about that, so now we just have to narrow down the spot and see if there’s some evidence there.”
‘Pumping out like a volcano’
About 400 people were evacuated from Buxton, south of Bundaberg, yesterday. Thirty people spent the night in an evacuation centre, but a warning for that area was downgraded last night.
David Grant left his camper-trailer in the Woodgate region yesterday and fled with his three dogs.
“I threw everything I could, as quick as I could, into the car and got out of there,” he said.
“The fire was just about 15 minutes behind me.
“It looked like Mount St Helens going off … just black, just pumping out like a volcano.”
He spent the night in the evacuation centre and fears he has lost everything.
“I’d say it’d all be a pile of molten metal, from what went through there. There’d be nothing left. I’ve lost the lot,” he said.
“This is my life, it’s all I’ve got left.
“Who knows what tomorrow will bring, I don’t know, I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
A 13-year-old boy was among those who spent the night by the side of Woodgate Road, waiting with a friend of his dad.
He had gone to school yesterday but his parents are on the other side of a roadblock.
“[I’m] a bit sad because all your family’s in a different area,” he said.
“You don’t know if they’re OK or not because my phone’s dead and no-one has communication.”
He said he wished he could say to his family, “I love you all and I hope you are all safe”.
Derek Carty was also separated from his partner and seven-month-old baby.
He said he was desperate for any information about when he could return home.
“We’ve been told so many different things and we want to go home to our families,” he said.
“All our phones are flat, we’ve got no toilets, no water or anything like that … we just want to know when we can go home.”
District disaster coordinator Inspector Pat Swindells said it was still too dangerous to let Woodgate residents return.
“The fire and emergency services have actions in place to try and suppress that fire, so we don’t know exactly when the road’s going to be open or when it will be safe for people to return, ” he said.
He said resources were in place to get any remaining residents out if conditions deteriorated again.
‘We’ve still got very high fire dangers’
Michael Knepp, a senior forecaster at the Bureau of Meteorology, said Thursday’s fire danger was much lower due to a cooler mass of air moving in and easing wind speeds.
But he warned the severe fire danger would likely return again on Friday, when temperatures are forecast to be about 8 degrees Celsius above average.
However, conditions are set to return to normal next week.
“We’ll be seeing an influx of moisture from the coast, so with the influx of moisture we’ll see more humid conditions and hopefully … we’ll see those conditions continue for the foreseeable future,” he said.
“Hopefully next week we’re going to see moisture pushing a fair way inland and it looks like the wind regime is fairly good.”
Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES) South-Eastern Region Assistant Commissioner Kevin Walsh likened the state’s bushfire crisis, which started six days ago, to “a marathon with a number of sprints in between”.
“We’re looking forward to a reprieve [today] and then we’ll have to get ready again for some severe fire danger ratings from Friday through to Monday, with some potential dry lightning strikes coming as well, which will be the next challenge,” he said.
Fires hope to conserve energy
At its peak yesterday there were more than 90 fires burning in Queensland and emergency evacuations for Noosa North Shore, Woodgate, Buxton and Pechey, where a water-bombing helicopter crash-landed.
Former QFES commissioner Lee Johnson has more than four decades experience on the frontline and said he has never seen a fire season like it.
“In my 40 years-plus of operational experience, I cannot recall a fire season in Queensland where we have had so much property loss and destruction,” he said.
“The outlook for this week and the rest of summer is not good, unless we get significant rain … conditions are going to be extreme.”
More than 1,100 firefighters have been at the fire fronts which have already destroyed more than 100,000 hectares of land in Queensland.
QFES South-Eastern Region Assistant Commissioner Kevin Walsh said while fatigue had been a concern, most of the firefighters on the ground were faring well physically and looking to pace themselves in the coming days.
“In these types of incidents, when you get large, protracted, complex campaign fires, it takes the resources of a nation, and indeed our international friends, to assist us,” he said.
“We’ve had firefighters from the Northern Territory, New Zealand, Victoria … and we are extremely grateful.”
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said it was one year since Queensland was last dealing with catastrophic bushfire conditions, which had become the new normal.
“We’re used to dealing with natural disasters, we’re used to dealing with cyclones, we’re used to dealing with floods — bushfires on this scale is unprecedented,” she said.
More on the bushfire emergency:
- See how the winds are affecting bushfire conditions around the country
- As NSW’s fires raged around them, this town’s residents huddled in one house
- Weather forecast fuels NSW fire fears, authorities warn Sydney could be at risk
- Queensland fires see State of Emergency declared across 42 areas as residents wait to return home
- NSW fires claim life of Wytaliba woman Vivian Chaplain as family pays tribute
- Fires in NSW partly caused by delayed monsoons in India, experts say
- ‘It’s well and truly gone’: Crushed Queenslanders return to wreckage of their homes
- Queensland famer’s ‘devastation’ at stolen hay bales takes a backseat as fires rage
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