Number Of Evacuees Soars As More Than 100 'Catastrophic' Fires Ravage Queensland
Almost 10,000 Queenslanders have been forced to flee their homes as bushfires fanned in catastrophic weather conditions bear down on their communities.
Firefighters in Queensland battled almost 140 bushfires, with the worst in central Queensland in such destructive conditions they were compared to those that fanned the infernos that recently devastated California.
About 1500 people fled the monster blaze in the Deepwater region that has already razed at least four homes and scorched tens of thousands of hectares of bush and farmland.
Earlier About 8,000 residents were issued mandatory evacuation orders and told to leave as the emergency reached the town of Gracemere.
A third dangerous fire threatened Mount Larcom in the afternoon, prompting more evacuations, including one woman, Rhonda Anderson, who rode her horse 30km to Gladstone as a wall of smoke dwarfed the small town.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has called for a calm evacuation of the township, south-west of Rockhampton, as firefighters battle 138 fires around the state amid "catastrophic" conditions.
"This is a very stressful situation for families. I need you all to be strong, I need you to listen," Palaszczuk said on Wednesday afternoon.
"Your family and the protection of our community is vital."
The sudden fire is moving towards inhabited areas of the Gracemere community, prompting a mandatory evacuation towards the Rockhampton Showgrounds where an evacuation centre has been set up.
"If you are picking up the kids, don't go home, go straight to the showgrounds," Queensland Police Commissioner Ian Stewart said.
"I urge people to think about their safety, the safety of their loved ones, the safety of their neighbours.
"Police will be out there trying to door-knock as quickly as we can to help with this evacuation, but we're not going to get to those small farmlets that surround that western side of Gracemere."
The Bureau of Meteorology has declared a catastrophic fire danger for the Capricornia and Central Highland regions as a hot, dry airmass and strong westerly winds spark unpredictable blazes.
The extreme heat and fire threat prompted the closure of 37 schools, including Gracemere State School, and five childhood centres.
"This is the first time we have had this category in Queensland," the premier said.
"(It is) unprecedented, uncharted, but we have a plan and we are going to follow that plan."
About 60 kilometres south-east of Gracemere, locals in Ambrose are being urged to leave their homes as an escalating fire bears down on properties.
An evacuation centre has been set up at the Raglan Tavern.
Earlier on Wednesday, authorities said up to 50 locals at Rules Beach, north of Bundaberg, were playing Russian roulette by ignoring repeated orders to leave the fire zone.
The small community was in the direct path of the Deepwater fire that has torn through about 20 hectares of land since Saturday, forcing more than 1000 people to leave their properties.
After mass evacuations, authorities said the window for those remaining to escape was down to one hour, with the only road access --Hills Road Bridge -- left vulnerable to the fire front.
"The containment line is a road -- the only road out. If those containment lines are breached, police will have to withdraw. They will not be able to get to the houses. They won't be able to help you," State Disaster Coordinator Bob Gee said on Wednesday morning.
"People will burn to death. It's no different to a Category 5 cyclone coming through your door," he said.
"The beach may not be a safe option. Leave now."
Police conducted a final sweep of the area on Wednesday morning, before the main evacuation route was cut about 10am.
Police have told 10 News First there are a number of people left at Rules Beach and Baffles Creek, where the only safe way left to evacuate is by boat.
Emergency Services Minister Craig Crawford warned the conditions were similar to those experienced during the 1983 Ash Wednesday fires in Victoria and South Australia.
"Today is unprecedented. As an old Victorian firefighter, I saw Ash Wednesday and I saw those big, big jobs down there and they are the kinds of conditions we are looking at today," he said.
"Think of your children, pets and family. Take them with you, get in the car and leave now ... you will not be able to defend your properties," he said.
But QFES Commissioner Katarina Carroll said the conditions on Wednesday were of no surprise.
"We predicted this and we've been asking people to leave over a number of days," she said.
Carroll said crews are expecting additional fires over the next few days.
"These really are dangerous conditions that we have never faced in Queensland before," she said.
Interstate crews arrived on Tuesday to help fight the inferno, along with eight aircrafts, including a massive water-bombing plane which can dump 15,000 litres at a time.
More help continues to flood in from over the border -- and not a moment too soon.
Featured image: 10 News First