Devastating wildfires are ripping through one of the most precious and irreplaceable parts of the natural world.
The southeast Australian island known by indigenous people as K’gari (paradise) is being ravaged by an unprecedented inferno.
It is more generally referred to as Fraser Island, the name given by European colonisers.
The fires have already burnt half of the island in the seven weeks they’ve been blazing through the world heritage listed site.
It is hard to see how authorities can easily stop the spread of the bushfire.
Some 24 water-bombing aircraft were attempting to control the burn but residents were told to evacuate their houses in Happy Valley on Monday.
“It feels like we’re in the war zone,” said Elspeth Murray from the Happy Valley Community Association.
“There are so many different aircraft going overhead.”
The fire has already burnt through more than 82,000 hectares on the island and threatens animal species.
Cheryl Brant from the Save Fraser Island Dingoes said local conservationists didn’t “know what’s left”.
“It’s still an unknown and we’re hoping that there will be an inquiry and [they] will let people over on the island to assess what animals still are surviving,” she said.
The inferno is ripping through the world’s biggest sand island. It is also threatening the Valley of the Giants—an area home to trees more than 1,000 years old.
“Fraser is the only place in the world where wet rainforest grows on sand and that is one of the world heritage values,” said Patrick Moss, professor of ecology at the University of Queensland.
“If fire gets into those areas it could have a devastating impact on the ecology.”
Firefighters, unable to extinguish the enormous flames, were instead attempting to steer the spread away from populous areas and important natural habitats.
Queensland Fire and Emergency Services commission Gary McCormack said the situation was incredibly dangerous.
“Unfortunately the current conditions are not conducive to extinguishment,” he said.
“We are working with the fire behaviour modelling to manipulate and push the fire as best we can away from the community, from infrastructure and away from sensitive cultural and environmental sites.”
The latest disaster comes after the 2019-2020 bushfire season, which was singularly catastrophic for Australia.
Nicknamed “Black Summer”, at least 34 people died, nearly 3 million animals were displaced or killed and 3,000 homes were destroyed. Some 24 million hectares of land were decimated.
Emergency services are buckling down for another potentially catastrophic summer.
“What is concerning is that we’re seeing fires on the east coast, particularly Fraser Island, but also around Sydney. This shouldn’t be happening. This is completely terrifying,” said David Bowman, professor of fire ecology at the University of Tasmania.
And the full extent of the damage is just being understood. In May, a government inquiry heard that 80 percent of Australians were affected by smoke from the fire, and smoky air was linked to more than 445 deaths.
More than 60,000 koalas were hurt or killed in the bushfires a year ago, a report by the World Wide Fund for Nature Australia has revealed.
Because of the rapid onset of climate change, fires are being more unpredictable and harder to control.
Temperatures in Australia are soaring, and this leaves the environment drier and more susceptible to fires.
Yet the government is even slower than most in acting on the ecological disaster. Australia has refused to set a target date to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions.
And it has continued to push through disastrous fossil fuel projects, such as giving the green light to the new Adani coal mine.
The opportunities to tackle climate change are slipping away. Systematic change, away from the capitalism driven by fossil fuels, is the only answer to preserve our planet and its environment.