In coastal areas of south-east Queensland (QLD), September is historically the month with the year’s highest bushfire danger. In early September 2019, the fire danger was higher than anything previously experienced in the region at that time of year. Rainfall from January to August 2019 had been very much below average or the driest on record, and mean maximum temperatures were very much warmer than average.
On 6 September, strong west to north-westerly winds produced extreme to catastrophic bushfire conditions in much of southeast QLD. By the following day, significant bushfires were burning at Stanthorpe, Applethorpe, Beechmont, Springbrook, Witheren, Numinbah Valley and Sarabah and by the afternoon of 8 September, there were more than 60 fires burning across the state.
The fires forced the closure of ten schools, many in the southeast’s Granite Belt. People in several threatened Granite Belt towns were urged to evacuate, and prisoners and staff were evacuated from the women’s correctional centre in the Numinbah Valley when it was threatened by fire. Despite hundreds of firefighters and several firefighting aircraft being deployed, several homes and other structures were destroyed in the extreme conditions, including the historic Binna Burra Lodge in the Gold Coast hinterland.
The most significant September fires, in the Sarabah/Scenic Rim area, the Stanthorpe area and Peregian Springs resulted in the burning of some 8,000 hectares (ha) of land, 17 homes and five commercial structures. The Peregian fire, which broke out on 9 September, required more than 100 fire crews to bring it under control.
On 17 September, lightning started a fire on North Stradbroke Island. Firefighters assisted by several water-bombing aircraft contained the fire, which burnt more than 2,000 ha.
On 8 October, a severe and fast-moving fire destroyed a house at Thornton and threatened the nearby township of Laidley, west of Brisbane. A large, unpredictable fire also threatened the nearby community of Grandchester but was contained by fire crews by 7.00pm that evening. Other fires burning north of Dalby, at Mount Sylvia, Mount Morgan and Childers, were all under control by the following day.
Due to deteriorating bushfire conditions and fires threatening homes across the state, on 9 November a state of fire emergency was declared in 42 of QLDs local government areas. Two days later, a fire started in the Ravensbourne area near Toowoomba and burnt over 20,000 ha of bush over several days and destroyed four homes.
On 9 November, 15 homes were lost at Cobraball during severe ember attacks, and more than 6,000 ha of bush and farmland was burned. Many residents spent the night in an evacuation centre in nearby Yeppoon. Meanwhile on the Sunshine Coast, a bushfire at Cooroibah near Noosa caused the evacuation of 6,000 residents. Only one home was lost in the fire.
On 13 November, a water-bombing helicopter crashed while fighting a fire threatening the small community of Pechey near Toowoomba. While the Bell 214 helicopter was completely destroyed, the pilot walked away with only minor injuries.
By 23 November, fire conditions had eased and the state of fire emergency was revoked.
On 7 December, a house fire broke out in Bundamba and spread to nearby bushland that afternoon. On the following day and in worsening conditions, the fire threatened homes in the local community and destroyed a shipping container filled with fireworks. Residents within a three-square-kilometre exclusion zone were ordered to evacuate and one home was destroyed.
In mid-December, Peregian Springs and surrounding areas on the Sunshine Coast came under threat for the second time in a couple of months. About 100 firefighters and five waterbombing aircraft worked on the fire. Although 60 homes were evacuated, none were lost.
The bushfire season officially ended on 31 January 2020. More than 35,000 Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES) personnel had fought the fires, which burned an estimated 6.6 million ha and destroyed 49 houses, 68 sheds and five commercial buildings. QFES used 72 aircraft flying more than 6,557 hours to fight the fires, about double the hours flown in the busy 2018–19 fire season.
By 7 September, very early in the bushfire season, the Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) had declared the QLD bushfires a catastrophe, enabling insurance claims from affected policyholders in several parts of the state to be expediated. Following more widespread outbreaks, on 13 November the areas covered were extended. The ICA’s estimated insurance loss for the 2019–20 Australian bushfire season as of 28 May 2020 was AU$2.32 billion, of which QLD represented 3 per cent.
Joint Commonwealth–State disaster recovery funding was made available for a wide range of measures in 23 local government areas across QLD that had been impacted by bushfires between 1 September and 31 December 2019.