Rural Fire Service firefighter Anthony Carter shared these photos of the blaze burning at Old Byfield Rd, Cobraball.
Rural Fire Service firefighter Anthony Carter shared these photos of the blaze burning at Old Byfield Rd, Cobraball.

‘Like a cyclone but with fire’: Inside bushfire infernos

IT'S the sound which hits first. A roaring groan resembling the sound of a fleet of 747s taking off before flames soaring almost 20 metres high become visible, engulfing the horizon.

These are the accounts of frontline firefighters who have dealt with one of Queensland's worst bushfire seasons.

Severe droughts and warming temperatures have transformed the Queensland outback into a tinderbox of fuel ready to ignite, and when lit almost impossible to fight.

The Cooroibah fire earlier this week. Picture: Paul Smith Images
The Cooroibah fire earlier this week. Picture: Paul Smith Images

Firefighting for over 35 years, Coberrie Rural Fire Services First Officer Wayne Scott has had his fair share of fires, but it was the sounds of his colleagues calling into the Rockhampton incident control centre when he realised the Cobraball fire, near Yeppoon, was no ordinary blaze.

The Cobraball fire destroyed 15 homes. Picture: Supplied
The Cobraball fire destroyed 15 homes. Picture: Supplied

 

"Listening to the crews on the radio you can actually get a feeling of what the fire is actually like from the tone of their voice," he said.

"Straight off, I could tell this wasn't a fire we've ever had before."

After claiming 15 properties, the most out of any in the state, the Cobraball fire left Mr Scott in awe at how fast it moved across the land.

 

 

An RFS firefighter battling the November blazes at Boonah. Picture: Supplied
An RFS firefighter battling the November blazes at Boonah. Picture: Supplied

 

"We saw 10m gum trees and the flames were 10m higher than the trees," he said.

"The trees got so hot they just exploded."

A member of this tight-knit community, Mr Scott said the efforts of protecting homes were very "emotional' defending the homes owned by friends and family.

"The heat was huge and unforgettable," he said.

"It is hard to put in words what it was like. So intense."

Rural firefighter Brett Nagel at Spicers Gap. Picture Annette Dew
Rural firefighter Brett Nagel at Spicers Gap. Picture Annette Dew

Without any rain Mr Scott said everything will become dead in a matter months.

Fighting to save his small Sunshine Coast community of Teewah, Clay Stjernqvist, has spent the last week battling blazes at Noosa North Shore and Cooroibah.

He said this is the biggest blaze he has ever seen in the area.

"I turned around and there was a massive plume of smoke," Mr Stjernqvist, a member of the Teewah RFS since 2001, said

"It kicked off. The winds came in strong from the south west … and it was pushing towards us."

A rural brigade truck traverses a narrow path among the flames at Noosa North Shore this week.
A rural brigade truck traverses a narrow path among the flames at Noosa North Shore this week.

Before the flames arrived, the battlers were blanketed in thick smoke that left them feeling choked, even with their masks on.

But when the flames closed in, the heat from the inferno felt "like no other".

"The heat off the fire was next level. It was like getting closer and closer to a furnace. It gets to the point that if you don't get out of there you will start blistering," he said.

As the intensity grew, fighting the fire with water was useless with the Teewah RFS relying on emergency back burning, still being able hear the furore of the fire.

"It is like standing on a runway with a 747 flying overhead," he said.

"The noise isn't just in front of you, it seems to surround you. It is similar to a cyclone but with fire."

This week’s fire at Noosa North Shore. Picture: Supplied
This week’s fire at Noosa North Shore. Picture: Supplied

 

Mr Stjernqvist can still vividly remember the sounds of trees squealing and crackling under the pressure of the heat.

Visually, the fear sets in when there's a crowning fire - a moment where the fire burns from the canopy - sending flames into the sky like a firework on cracker night.

"All you can see to the top of the tree is just red … and then you have the flame above the tree," he said.

"When its crowning like that it would be 15-20m in height. That's when you really start thinking you've got to get out of there."

Trying to fight fire with fire to contain the blaze, Mr Stjernqvist said everything around becomes the colour of black and orange.

"It was probably freakier for the people evacuated than what it was for us," he said.

"For the people down on the beach that were being evacuated, all they could see was a red glow."

Yet teamwork and camaraderie between the brave men and women who risked their lives is the only reason more homes were not burnt, according to Mr Stjernqvist.

As these blazes become etched into the identity of these small communities, both men believe it will be a defining moment where Queenslanders rallied together to over come disaster.

 

Rural firefighters preparing to fight fires at Spicers Gap. Picture: AAP Image/Darren England)
Rural firefighters preparing to fight fires at Spicers Gap. Picture: AAP Image/Darren England)