Rural fire brigade trucks refill with water in Grapetree Road Pechey. Picture: Nev Madsen. Wednesday, 13th Nov, 2019.
Rural fire brigade trucks refill with water in Grapetree Road Pechey. Picture: Nev Madsen. Wednesday, 13th Nov, 2019. Nev Madsen

Pechey residents moved to Highfields evacuation centre

PECHEY residents spent an uncertain night in a Highfields evacuation centre after a fast-moving fire forced evacuations across the region.

The fire started as a glow on the horizon late Tuesday, but was fanned by strong wind gusts though yesterday. 

That wind whipped up an ember storm that sprayed spotfires well in advance of containment lines. 

At 6pm yesterday more than 40 rural and urban fire crews from across the Darling Downs were working to protect homes and lives. 

Pechey fire: helicopter makes forced landing at Pechey.
Pechey fire: helicopter makes forced landing at Pechey.

A firefighter piloting a waterbombing helicopter has been taken to hospital after making an emergency landing in the middle of a firestorm at Pechey yesterday. 

Queensland Police Service Acting Inspector Regan Draheim said it was unknown what had caused the Bell 214B helicopter to crash about 2pm. 

"The forced landing damaged the helicopter and caused minor injuries to the pilot, who was the single occupant," he said. 

Inspector Draheim said it was too early to tell how conditions above the bushfire had affected the aircraft. 

"Investigations are continuing," he said. 

A Queensland Fire and Emergency Services crew established an exclusion zone around the aircraft for fear its flight fuel would ignite.

Officers fought through the day to contain the fire which broke its containment line about 6.30am yesterday. 

Hampton Rural Fire Service first officer Andrew Kahler said strong wind gusts had whipped up embers.

"We had an ember storm come through that started multiple fires nearly half a kilometre away from the main fire, heading east," Mr Kahler said.

"The wind was disgusting." 

The fire threatened homes in the Hampton area. 

"We had a lot of crews here to protect them," Mr Kahler said. 

The fire moved east from Grapetree Rd towards Deeth Rd, Sewell Rd, Bush Rd and Misty Mountain Rd. 

QFES and QPS officers evacuated a number of homes near the fire front. Residents moved to an evacuation centre at the Highfields Aquatic and Cultural Centre. 

The fast-moving fire front forced emergency service officers to move their forward command post from Grapetree Rd to the New England Highway about 3pm. 

"The fire was in very heavy natural vegetation and would be pushing close to 180-200 hectares burnt," Mr Kahler said. 

"It was burning 20-foot high lantana and it was in some really crappy hard-to-reach country." 

At 5pm, the wind changed direction as a strong easterly pushed through southern Queensland. 

QFES warned of a fast-moving fire travelling in a north-easterly direction between Pechey and Hampton impacting Deeth Rd, Lanyon Rd, Williams Rd and Pechey Forestry Rd.

The fire was expected to have a significant impact on the community.