SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian authorities on Monday managed to stave off a massive bushfire as it neared a coastal township on world heritage-listed Fraser Island, part of the Great Barrier Reef.
The blaze, which has been burning since mid-October, has already destroyed half the island off Australia’s northeastern coast. Famous for its tropical rainforest and inland lakes, it is the world’s largest sand island.
“Firefighters have slowed the spread of the fire to the north of the Happy Valley township,” a Queensland state Fire and Emergency Services spokeswoman said.
“No structures have been impacted at this stage due to significant firefighting efforts on the ground,” she said.
Neighbouring New South Wales state sent an air tanker, joining 23 other waterbombing aircraft battling to extinguish the fire.
The Happy Valley township has about 50 residents. About half of them chose to stay and help firefighters protect their homes and properties, the emergency services spokeswoman said.
Authorities had warned that power, water, and mobile phone service may be lost and road conditions may become very dangerous on Monday.
An intense heatwave has hit Australia’s southeast and northeast in recent days with temperatures reaching well above 40 degree Celsius (104 degree Fahrenheit) in several places.
This has raised the risk of bushfires with total fire bans enforced in several regions. It is the first major heatwave of the fire season, which usually runs from the late southern hemisphere spring through summer.
Last summer’s bush fires razed more than 24 million hectares (59 million acres) of bushland, killing 33 people and billions of native animals, a disaster that Prime Minister Scott Morrison called Australia’s “black summer”.
(Reporting by Renju Jose; Additional reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Diane Craft and Edwina Gibbs)