New fire taskforce as Premier cuts trip short
A CRACK police taskforce will be drafted to target firebugs exacerbating the state's bushfire crisis, just days after authorities defended a decision to shelve a similar arson investigation unit.
The Courier-Mail revealed last week that Taskforce Vulcan, a successful joint venture between authorities to prevent and investigate suspicious bushfires, was shelved ahead of this year's horror bushfire season.
Queensland emergency services hit out, claiming that it was "not really a taskforce", but yesterday Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll announced a similar unit - Taskforce Overcross - had been created to help prevent "deliberately or recklessly" lit fires.
It came as police investigated whether children were responsible for lighting a number of fires that devastated parts of the state.
The ongoing disaster forced Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk to cut short her European Olympic mission to jet back to "ground-zero".
Authorities were yesterday battling to ease fires on the Sunshine Coast after an "ember storm" displaced hundreds of people on Monday and resulted in at least one home being destroyed at Peregian, where up to a dozen properties had originally been feared lost.
Ms Carroll urged parents to speak to their children after some of the state's fires had "involved children playing".
"Some fires have clearly got away from kids thinking they're having fun," she said.
One child will be dealt with under the Youth Justice Act following a fire at Woodridge, while two 14-year-old girls were arrested after allegedly deliberately starting a fire at bushland at Ormeau, north of the Gold Coast. Police were still talking to juveniles yesterday about the Peregian fire.
Ms Carroll said as part of the taskforce, the QPS State Crime Command would co-ordinate all investigations into suspicious fires.
"This taskforce will stay in place until I am satisfied that we have dealt with all fires across the state and will continue throughout the coming weeks," Ms Carroll said.
Ms Palaszczuk yesterday decided she would come home early after landing in Switzerland to try to secure the 2032 Olympics for Queensland.
She attended meetings in Lausanne last night before she was expected to fly out.
Hundreds of people displaced on the Sunshine Coast now face an agonising wait before being allowed to return home.
But with power poles destroyed by the flames, high voltage lines still down and electricity cut off, they were not allowed to stay.
A cruel shift in the wind yesterday afternoon put more communities at risk, including those at Peregian Breeze estate and Weyba.
Water bombers tried to contain the blaze, but were hampered by strong south-easterly winds that drove it across bushland surrounding homes, sparking evacuation warnings.
A Boeing 737, on loan from NSW, was also brought in to help quell the flames.
As of late yesterday, 17 homes had been destroyed across Queensland with more than 90 bushfires still burning. And while some respite is expected today and tomorrow, Queenslanders have been warned that above-average temperatures could be back later this week.
Bureau of Meteorology weather services manager Richard Wardle said winds were expected to ease late yesterday.
"Hopefully after today (Tuesday), there will be a respite during Wednesday and Thursday as those winds die down, but unfortunately the long-term outlook is that we expect above-average temperatures for Friday and Saturday at least so we expect to see those very high fire danger ratings continue or return at the end of the week," he said.
Mr Wardle said no significant rainfall was expected over "the next week or two".
Acting premier Jackie Trad hailed the efforts of authorities on the Sunshine Coast as "herculean" yesterday.
"It was nothing short of a miracle when you consider the ember storm that was engulfing those communities and how unpredictable and quickly that fire emerged late yesterday (Monday)," she said.