Search for firebug after Russell Island fires

SMOULDERING FIRES: Russell Island resident Sharon Keegan said she saw a man leave the scene of last week's fires on a trail bike. Photo: Cheryl Goodenough

SMOULDERING FIRES: Russell Island resident Sharon Keegan said she saw a man leave the scene of last week's fires on a trail bike. Photo: Cheryl Goodenough

AN investigation into fires on Russell Island last week has been taken over by police, amid residents’ concerns that blazes were deliberately lit.

A Queensland Fire and Emergency Services spokesperson said on Monday the fire was still under investigation, with police brought into the probe.

Russell Island resident Sharon Keegan said she was having coffee on her veranda when she heard the tell-tale crackle of a fire. When she went to investigate, a trail bike raced away from the source of the sound. 

“The bike took off at a million miles an hour and was going through the gears like you wouldn’t believe,” she said.

SHARING INFORMATION: Rural Fire Brigade volunteers Kevin Gillard and (right) Larry Hoffman, with Redland City SES local controller and resilience community co-ordinator Clare Barker on Russell Island on Saturday. Photo: Cheryl Goodenough

SHARING INFORMATION: Rural Fire Brigade volunteers Kevin Gillard and (right) Larry Hoffman, with Redland City SES local controller and resilience community co-ordinator Clare Barker on Russell Island on Saturday. Photo: Cheryl Goodenough

The large fire was in the vicinity of Glendale and Centre roads and Cunningham Avenue on the southern part of Russell. A second blaze started a short distance away in Stradbroke Drive later the same day.

There was no threat to property during last week’s fires, but in December a major bushfire on the island threatened about 60 homes, including Ms Keegan’s.

Rural Fire Brigade first officer Larry Hoffman said anything suspicious and illegal dumping should be reported to Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

At a council information session on the island on Saturday, residents called for council to ensure vacant blocks were cleared, the installation of a mobile tower in the south and more fire tracks and back burning.

INFORMATION: Council officers handed out copies of the Disaster Management Plan on Russell Island on Saturday. Photo: Cheryl Goodenough

INFORMATION: Council officers handed out copies of the Disaster Management Plan on Russell Island on Saturday. Photo: Cheryl Goodenough

The session was in response to the December fires which alarmed many residents.

Council’s local disaster co-ordinator Mike Lollback said the island’s disaster management plan was distributed and a call made for feedback from residents.

“A lot of people on the island felt abandoned by the mainland, by council,” he said.

He said discussions with residents and the provision of information would increase the resilience of people on Russell.

Moreton Bay Combined Islands Association president Greg Hartay-Szabo said among the measures that should be implemented was a sign at the jetty showing evacuation and assembly points on the island.

He said mobile reception on the south of Russell was poor and land needed to be cleared to reduce fire fuel.

“I am pleased to see the communication is improving, but there is a lot more that could be done,” he said.

Ms Keegan said the fire was the best thing ecologically that had happened on the island but it should have been a controlled burn.

“I am from the Victorian bush where back burning was something we did every year,’’ she said.

“Anywhere you live where there’s bush, you are going to get fires.”

AFTER THE FIRE: Regrowth where a fire blazed on Russell Island in December. Photo: Cheryl Goodenough

AFTER THE FIRE: Regrowth where a fire blazed on Russell Island in December. Photo: Cheryl Goodenough

Cr Mark Edwards said he raised concerns about fires on Russell two years ago. 

“Sometimes it takes an event such as this to put the focus on it,” he said.

Cr Edwards said he was confident the outcome of the review of council’s bushfire mitigation processes would see significant changes for the better.

Residents and council officials said the efforts by firefighters to put out the blazes in December and more recently were a credit to the volunteers from the Rural Fire Brigade and their urban colleagues.

Rural fire service volunteer Kevin Gillard said residents could dump rubbish for free at the tip or apply for permits to burn on their land, enabling them to clear their property with support from the Rural Fire Brigade.

“The more we can burn legally and safely, the better,” he said.

He said undergrowth could fuel a fire and encouraged residents to look after their own property.

“If we all do that and have a lot of people doing a little bit that will make a big difference.”

Mr Hoffman also stressed the importance of visible numbering of properties to assist in emergency response.

Dates for other Southern Moreton Bay Islands pop-up stalls

  • February 25: Macleay Island Spar, 8am to noon
  • March 11: Lamb Island Convenience Store, 9am to noon
  • March 25: Karragarra Island Jetty, 9am to noon

The Redland City Council Disaster Management Plan is available online at redlandsdisasterplan.com.au. Feedback on the plan can be provided through the website.

Information to assist with development a Bushfire Survival Plan and details about volunteering for the Rural Fire Brigade is available at ruralfire.qld.gov.au.

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