Australian firefighters were struggling on Monday to try to control massive fires that have destroyed 40% of the forests of Fraser Island, a World Heritage-listed east coast island, where the situation is more likely to deteriorate with the arrival of a new heat wave.
It is more than six weeks since the fires began on the largest sand island in the world, 122 km long but which is separated from mainland Australia by a strait of one kilometer. The mercury is expected to climb to 34 degrees on Monday, raising fears that the blazes will intensify. “The vegetation on Fraser Island is extremely dry, and therefore very flammable,” AFP told AFP; James Haig, a local official. For firefighters, the weather is not the only challenge. Their work is complicated by the difficulty of accessing certain fires in the north of the island.
The Queensland Parks Service said the fires were burning on two fronts and had already consumed 74,000 hectares, or 42% of the island’s area. No home is threatened. The advance of the flames in the direction of certain settlement areas, however, convinced the authorities to prohibit tourists from entering the island, which is nevertheless a popular destination, and to restrict ferry trips.
James Haig said a dozen water bombers had been deployed, some of which had the mission to protect aboriginal sites. “We really need rain, but we might not see it anytime soon,” he said.
Two-thirds of the state of Queensland is currently feeling the effects of drought. Also known for its packs of dingoes, Fraser Island had been declared a World Heritage Site for its “majestic remains of large rainforests growing on the sand and half of the perched freshwater dune lakes of the world”, according to Unesco. . “Its combination of still moving sand dunes, tropical rainforests and lakes makes it an exceptional site,” explains the organization on its website.
Several smaller fires are raging elsewhere in Queensland. The neighboring state of New South Wales, of which Sydney is the capital, is also the scene of some fifty fires.
Australia experienced a particularly virulent forest fire season in 2019-2020. An area the size of the UK went up in smoke and 33 people were killed.
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