Fire burning on Fraser Island Monday morning.
Fire burning on Fraser Island Monday morning.

EDITORIAL: When the smoke clears, we must have answers

OUR World Heritage Listed Island has now been burning for six weeks and somehow, it is still not considered a national emergency.

In fact, it feels like this only started to really concern people in city buildings in the last week and by then it was already far too late.

How can it be that the same bureaucrats who oversee prohibitive legislation, which makes getting permits to put in fire breaks and carry out controlled burns in the bush near impossible, haven't also been losing their minds about one of the most protected patches in the world going up in smoke?

Sacred land for the Butchulla people, dedicated under the Queen's Commonwealth Canopy and celebrated as a unique tourism destination and yet, we were told by the folks who criminalise tree chopping and advocate for wildlife that all this burning was basically business as usual.

The language in the early weeks bordered on dismissive and ironically, included lines which not only suggested the fires on Fraser were burning at acceptable levels in largely inaccessible areas (never mind the fact that these were a lot more accessible back in the day when clear tracks were maintained) but they were also a natural part of the bush landscape.

Surely then, it wouldn't have been so harmful for a more robust hazard reduction burning and fire break program to have been in place.

If it's ok for a protected island to burn for weeks, why is it so wrong for us to get rid of some of the fuel around our rural properties?

Anyway, long time locals nodded cautiously in the beginning.

After all we've all seen fires on Fraser before and some of us weren't that unhappy at the idea of old scrub getting a good clean out.

By the end of week two however the gig was up.

Extreme weather may be making things far worse now but it's hard to understand why, given all that occurred last summer, this wasn't handed to QFES to control from the beginning and treated like an emergency.  

More than 50% of our island has now been razed. The loss of wildlife, just months after the devastating bushfires elsewhere in the country is devastating. So too is the impact on such culturally and environmentally important land and on our tourism industry which should be welcoming its first influx of interstate customers but is instead, having to turn them away. Cruel on all counts.

While there is no doubt many brave fire fighters are doing all they can in extreme conditions and they have our thanks and respect, we must continue to question how we ended up here and why it took so long to hand control to them.

An illegal campfire may well have been the trigger but the bad decisions did not start or stop there.

When the smoke clears the decisions made before and during the fire emergency must be properly and widely scrutinised.

The most important decisions however, will be those made next.

May the policies which rise from the ashes be the silver lining in this tragedy.