Queensland bushfires: man dies clearing firebreak as evacuations continue

Two men arrested for lighting fires as heatwave conditions expected to continue over weekend

Smoke rises from a large bushfire near Deepwater in central Queensland. Photograph: Dan Peled/EPA

A central Queensland man has died and 10 people including seven children who were caught up in the state’s bushfires have had to be airlifted to safety, as authorities urged residents in the path of the Deepwater bushfire to leave the area immediately.

The man died after being hit by a falling tree while clearing a firebreak on his family’s property south of Emerald.

As two men were arrested for starting fires in central Queensland, more than 100 fires continued to burn across the state. Heatwave conditions were expected to continue over the weekend and the prospect of an incoming cyclone threatened to complicate things further.

The Queensland fire and emergency service (QFES) said on Friday night an “extremely large and unpredictable fire” was fast approaching communities in Deepwater, Baffle Creek, Rules Beach and Oyster Creek.

Residents there were urged to evacuate to the nearby Miriam Vale Community Centre. They were warned that firefighters may not be able to protect homes.

“You should not expect a firefighter at your door,” QFES said in a statement.

On Friday night at the rainforest area of Eungella, west of Mackay, 10 people, including six children and an infant, were airlifted out of the area. The area had been ringed by fire for days. They were flown to the Finch Hatton showgrounds by the RACG CQ Rescue helicopter.

The women and children were among about 40 people who had stayed behind at Eungella to help with the firefighting efforts, Mackay mayor Greg Williamson said.

“A lot of people elected to stay and fight,” he told AAP.

Then the fire changed in the dangerous and unpredictable conditions and they decided it was time to get the children and women out.

“The fire is roaring up the hill at Eungella which has been a big shock,” the mayor said.

“It just shows how this fire that’s been escalating for the last couple of days has just turned nasty on us.”

The Queensland premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, visited the Miriam Vale Community Centre on Friday to thank firefighters and launch a bushfire appeal to help families affected by the disaster.

Palaszczuk said it was too dangerous for people to return to some areas. “Just yesterday the winds turned so dramatically – 160 degrees – within a couple of hours and the firefighters on the ground and the volunteers had to deal with this changing, evolving situation that is not only putting their lives at risk, but also others,” she said.

More than 10,000 people had been told to leave their homes as the fire crisis unfolded throughout central Queensland.

On Friday, a 27-year-old man was arrested for allegedly lighting a grass fire at Port Curtis, south of Rockhampton, while a 26-year-old man was charged with endangering property by fire over an incident at Rockhampton.

A total fire ban had been issued for the entire Brisbane region for the weekend, while restrictions were also in place for parts of southwest Queensland, including Toowoomba, the Southern and Western Downs and the Maranoa areas until Tuesday.

Annastacia Palaszczuk (@AnnastaciaMP)

This is incredible vision of the Boeing 737 Gaia dropping 15,000 litres of water near Mackay. The air support assists our ground crews by creating a fire break. @CraigCrawfordMP @QFES_chief @QldFES #qldfires pic.twitter.com/tyOIDnVEnM

Kathleen Ferguson (@kit_ferguson_)

Women and children after being rescued by helicopter from Eungella near Mackay. @abcnews #qldfires pic.twitter.com/MvWzbVPciL

Ira Snave (@IraSnave)

My heart is with you tonight Queensland. Stay strong. Stay alert. And if you’re told you should leave, please just go. #qldfires

Ian Townsend (@IanBTownsend)

"It’s rainforest, mate, and it’s all burning,” Eungella Chalet’s Tess Ford told AAP. I know this area. Burning rainforests aren’t normal. #climatestrike https://t.co/Lbkr0lWRqk

People in Broken River, Finch Hatton, Kowari Gorge, Eungella, Dalrymple Heights and Crediton were told they should be be ready to follow their bushfire plan or prepare to leave as the blaze approached.

“If you do not have a plan, or intend to leave, you should be ready to leave the area because the situation could get worse quickly,” the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services said.

The QFES commissioner, Katarina Carroll, said the challenging conditions would persist for days.

“We’ve got a heatwave still with us for the next four days. We’ve got thunderstorms that interfere with how the fire spreads. We have never seen this in our state before”.

Weather forecasters said it had been an extraordinary week of widespread and catastrophic fire dangers, and a protracted heatwave.

There were some early indications that temperatures in central and northern Queensland might return to being closer to average by Thursday, the weather bureau said.

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