Half of the World Heritage-listed K’gari/Fraser Island, the world’s largest sand island off the Queensland coast of Australia, has been destroyed by a bushfire, with potentially devastating effects for its habitats and wildlife.
After burning most of the island’s north, the wildfire, which has been alight for more than six weeks, is threatening major tourism and rainforest areas.
The fire burned on two fronts on Tuesday and spread south to the tourist resort of Kingfisher bay, where 80 employees were ordered to get ready to evacuate.
On Tuesday, Queensland Fire and Emergency Services told the Guardian the fire was invading the famed Valley of the Giants on the island, home to trees more than 1,000 years old.
There are currently more than 30 crews on K’gari (Fraser Island), made up of QFES, QPWS & Butchulla Aboriginal Corporation personnel. The makeup of the sand island makes our work difficult & we share the communities concerns, but we’ll continue to work to minimise the impact. pic.twitter.com/fDieIDRpKU
— Qld Fire & Emergency (@QldFES) November 30, 2020
K’gari is renowned for its amazing beaches, freshwater lakes, lush rainforests and sand dunes more than 200 m high, 250 km (155 miles).
The fire began after an unauthorised campfire in mid-October and has burned over 81,000 hectares since then (200,000 acres).
QFES Assistant Commissioner Gary McCormack said much of the firefighting operation was a “aerial assault” to drop saltwater and freshwater onto the burning canopy using planes and helicopters.
He said that under current circumstances, there was no hope of extinguishing the fire, but the priority was on directing the blaze away from tourist areas, ecologically sensitive places and sites that are important to the Aboriginal Butchulla people who have lived on the island for thousands of years.