Auxiliary firefighters (from left) Tyron Charles, Matt Rogers, Shane Macklin, Shannell van Nek and Regan Boustead. Picture: Mark Cranitch
Auxiliary firefighters (from left) Tyron Charles, Matt Rogers, Shane Macklin, Shannell van Nek and Regan Boustead. Picture: Mark Cranitch

Enter the guardians of Gracemere

THEY'RE the hometown heroes of Queensland's hellfire horror.

Plumbers, nurses and miners are among locals who stood shoulder to shoulder to fight the ferocious firestorm that threatened to wipe out Gracemere and nearby towns outside Rockhampton.

State remains on high fire alert

How fires unfolded yesterday

The "guardians of Gracemere" included auxiliary firefighters Shane Macklin, a Rockhampton Mater Hospital purchasing officer, along with nurse Shannell Van Nek, miner Reegan Boustead, smelter worker Matt Rogers and plumber Tyron Charles.

They left their jobs and families to bravely defend Gracemere and the neighbouring towns of Kabra and Stanwell as the most catastrophic bushfire conditions in Queensland history threatened their community of about 8000 people.

For 12 hours until 2am yesterday, the part-time firefighters battled 15m flames and intense smoke to help save Gracemere, which had been evacuated on Wednesday afternoon.

After a couple of hours sleep, they were back on the frontline yesterday as flames fanned by strengthening westerly winds flared again and thick clouds of smoke billowed around Gracemere , Kabra and Stanwell.

 

Auxiliary firefighters (from left) Tyron Charles, Matt Rogers, Shane Macklin, Shannell van Nek and Regan Boustead. Picture: Mark Cranitch
Auxiliary firefighters (from left) Tyron Charles, Matt Rogers, Shane Macklin, Shannell van Nek and Regan Boustead. Picture: Mark Cranitch

 

Firefighters managed to save all but one home: a hilltop house at Kabra was flattened by a fireball which roared up the slope late on Wednesday.

"It's probably the most intense fire I've been to in 20-odd years," said Mr Macklin, captain of the Gracemere Fire Brigade.

"There were multiple structures under threat. The fire got close. Gracemere was very lucky but the fire is still there.

"We're definitely not at a stage where I'd say it's safe."

Locals also banded together to save the Kabra Hotel from being engulfed after flames came within less than 100m of the iconic pub on the Capricorn Highway.

Drinkers downed schooners and climbed onto the roof to put up sprinklers in a desperate bid to avert disaster at their beloved watering hole.

"We saw the big red glow coming over the hill but we've managed to dodge a bullet," a relieved publican Jo Lidster said.

"One of the fellas said 'don't worry Jo, we won't let this old girl burn'.

"I knew the place would be protected because the locals need their hotel."

 

Shannon Coombs captured the fire on his Gracemere property.
Shannon Coombs captured the fire on his Gracemere property.

 

A fresh fire emergency was declared yesterday afternoon as Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk arrived at the pub, which was converted into a makeshift command post, to congratulate firefighters and locals for saving Gracemere.

"We have a bit of an unfolding situation happening behind us .. crews are going out to establish some more containment lines as we speak," Ms Palaszczuk told reporters.

"We're not out of this yet, " she said.

Queensland fire chief Katarina Carroll congratulated the 12,000 residents of Gracemere who evacuated on Wednesday as the firestorm bore down on them.

"You rock, Gracemere," she said.

Queensland Fire and Emergency Service acting inspector Joe Pope said two water bombers sent in on Wednesday had saved Gracemere, Kabra and Stanwell from potential devastation.

"They are the difference that saved the community of Gracemere and the smaller communities of Kabra and Stanwell by allowing us to pull this fire up in time and not have too much affect," he said.

 

A tracking map shows how close the fires came to Gracemere.
A tracking map shows how close the fires came to Gracemere.

 

Meanwhile, another small community north of Bundaberg was forced to flee yesterday, as the region enters its second week of extreme bush fire activity today.

Winfield, about 60km north of Bundaberg, became the sixth tiny town in the area to be evacuated, as a devastating bushfire continued on its south-westerly warpath.

The historic blaze first took hold of the nearby Deepwater and Round Hill areas last Thursday.

Like clockwork, residents were once again told to leave immediately as midday approached.

Boats have become a main source of transportation in the area as the fire rages around the winding Baffle Creek, cutting off roads and bridges.

Residents will not be allowed to assess the damage themselves until well into next week.

Water bombing aircraft was called in, but provided little relief as the blaze broke containment lines.

 

The Gracemere fire as seen from Rockhampton
The Gracemere fire as seen from Rockhampton

 

At Mt Larcom, northwest of Gladstone, authorities were again on high alert due to spot fires that flared up midafternoon.

The tiny township of Ambrose, about 8km north of Mt Larcom, also came close to an evacuation.

Authorities continue to fight spot fires around Gladstone, which has a population of about 33,000 people.

Despite hellish conditions at Mt Larcom on Wednesday night, no homes were destroyed.

Mt Larcom State School did lose its shed, however.