Queensland is in “survival mode” as dozens of bushfires burn across the state and there is no rain on the horizon, the head of the volunteer firefighters association has said.
Firefighters have contained a bushfire at Tara, on the Western Downs four hours west of Brisbane, that destroyed 53 homes and claimed two lives. But fires have flared up to the north and south, with emergency warnings in place on Wednesday for a fire between Warwick and Stanthorpe on the Southern Downs.
The general manager of Queensland’s Rural Fire Brigades Association, Justin Choveaux, said firefighters were having hundreds of “little fights” every day.
“Queensland is in survival mode right now,” Choveaux said. “If it doesn’t rain, the state will continue to burn.”
New Zealand firefighters and volunteer crews from Victoria have been diverted from Tara to Warwick to fight out-of-control fires that are threatening homes.
“Volunteers have left their homes and communities in Victoria and come here for free to help us. Why? Because when they have a big crisis, we will go down there,” Choveaux said. “It can’t get much more Australian than that.”
The Tara fire has grown to more than 24,000 hectares since it started burning weeks ago.
A Queensland Fire and Emergency Services spokesperson said they were focused on letting residents return to their properties where it was safe.
“Crews will continue to monitor the fire over the coming days to ensure there are no reignitions, but the weather is looking favourable over the next week,” the spokesperson said.
Hundreds of evacuees were moved from Tara to nearby Dalby one hour east last week as the fire threatened the Tara township. Almost 300 people sought refuge at the Dalby showgrounds over the weekend but only a few dozen remain there.
Most have returned home or found accommodation with friends, while others have been put up in motels in town by the housing department. “Heaps of our rooms are filled with people from Tara,” a manager at the Australian Hotel in Dalby told Guardian Australia. “And we’ve had heaps of fire crews coming in for lunch.”
Not everyone has evacuated. David Wigfull and his wife chose to ignore QFES advice to leave their remote bush property outside Tara.
“We were told to evacuate a few times but there’s no bloody fires around here,” Wigfull said on Wednesday morning.
“We are praying for the best that nothing happens. I’ve had a mate come over and bulldoze quite a few trees around our place to create a wider firebreak.”
Wigfull said he “probably won’t take any notice of the warnings” if the fire flares up because he feared looting.
“I’m not giving anyone the chance to come to my place and steal all my shit,” he said. “There’s no way I could start again.”
Queensland police Supt Mick Thesfield told reporters on Tuesday there had been three reports of looters in the area targeting homes that have been evacuated.
“It’s disappointing to hear that these offences have happened while, one, people have had damage to property and, two, while they haven’t been able to protect their property,” Thesfield said.
Fencing supplies, tools and a vehicle have been reported stolen but as yet no charges have been laid, he said.
Disaster recovery payments of $1,000 per adult and $400 per child have been made available to people seriously affected by fires, as well as grants of up to $5,000 for people who have lost uninsured property.
According to the federal government, about 42,000 Queenslanders are already eligible for the payments.
Narrelle Monaghan, a manager of a Lifeline store in Dalby, said a truck of donated supplies, including clothing, toys and tents, left for Tara on Wednesday.
“It’s been a massive thing, getting organised to get the donations going in the right direction,” she said. “It’s horrible, you couldn’t imagine what it would be like.”