Men charged over Fraser Island bushfire

Cheryl Goodenough
·2-min read

Four men who allegedly started an illegal campfire that burned through almost half of the world heritage-listed Fraser Island in Queensland have been charged.

Police arrested the four men in Maryborough on Monday, while a teenager will also be dealt with over the incident.

The men - aged in their 20s - face charges relating to the lighting of an unauthorised campfire that was not properly extinguished.

It's alleged Queensland Parks and Wildlife Services rangers were alerted to an illegal campfire in a camp zone on Eastern Beach on October 14.

The rangers found a campfire covered in sand but still radiating heat.

"Native vegetation in close proximity had caught alight and started a wildfire to the northwest of the campsite," Queensland Police said on Tuesday.

The fire took hold, burning about 87,000 hectares of the island over nearly two months.

Water bombers dumped almost three million litres of water and fire-retardant gel during a nine-week battle to halt the fire.

But loose soil on the world's largest sand island caused the liquids to drain away in inaccessible, bush-covered dunes where the fire burned on multiple fronts.

One fire front near the Kingfisher Bay Resort on the west side of the island forced the evacuation of guests and staff.

On the eastern side of the island, the fire came dangerously close to properties in Happy Valley and Cathedrals but was beaten back.

Visitors were banned from the island during most of the firefighting effort.

"This fire had a devastating effect on Fraser Island and was quite simply totally avoidable," Maryborough Detective Senior Sergeant David Harbison told reporters after the men were charged.

"A large amount of damage was caused to the island, many people were inconvenienced and the firefighting response risked lives and cost a large amount of money."

Sen Sgt Harbison said the men were charged with lighting an unauthorised fire, but it was not alleged they were responsible for the wildfire that devastated the island.

"It's common knowledge you can't light fires on Fraser Island in these areas and what flowed from there was catastrophic to the island," he added.

Fraser Island is about 250km north of Brisbane and covers more than 180,000 hectares.

The four men are expected to appear in Hervey Bay Magistrates Court on January 21.

The 17-year-old boy will be dealt with under youth justice legislation.