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Bushfire-ravaged Stanthorpe residents say COVID-19 brought a silver lining


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Bushfire-ravaged Stanthorpe residents say COVID-19 brought a silver lining

After years of drought, water shortages and then last year’s devastating bushfires, it has been a long wait for good news in Stanthorpe.This time last year, Queensland’s Granite Belt communities were fighting some of the first blazes in what would become Australia’s worst-ever bushfire season.Oddly enough, the global pandemic has delivered some unexpected relief, thanks…

Bushfire-ravaged Stanthorpe residents say COVID-19 brought a silver lining

After years of drought, water shortages and then last year’s devastating bushfires, it has been a long wait for good news in Stanthorpe.

This time last year, Queensland’s Granite Belt communities were fighting some of the first blazes in what would become Australia’s worst-ever bushfire season.

Oddly enough, the global pandemic has delivered some unexpected relief, thanks to support from fellow Queenslanders.

The Queensland College of Wine Tourism CEO said after more than a year of battling natural disasters, Stanthorpe was grateful Queenslanders have been showing support.

“That’s been a rather thick silver lining to the cloud of the last few months,” Mr O’Reilly said.

A smiling man standing in front of a large U-shaped building complex wrapped around a grassy square

Peter O’Reilly says Stanthorpe residents are very happy so many locals have been paying them a visit.(ABC News: Stephen Cavenagh)

Husband and wife owners of the Granite Belt Brewery, Dee and Geoff Davenport, have also noticed a boost in bookings since coronavirus restrictions were eased in July.

“Booked out basically, booked out solidly since the 12th of June, but the whole of our region has,” Ms Davenport said.

“We were shut for three months with the pandemic,” her husband explained.

“But since we’ve reopened on the 12th of June, it has gone gangbusters.”

This time last year, they thought they were about to lose it all.

View from Mount Marlay of bush fire at night approaching Stanthorpe on Queensland's Granite Belt.

Geoff Davenport says he’d been certain the bushfire took their brewery.(Supplied: Emmy Jayne)

The college, along with the Granite Belt Brewery in the hills nearby, was two of the many businesses in Stanthorpe that came close to burning.

Spot fires broke out in the gardens of the college, and the Davenports watched as the bush around their property went up in flames.

Geoff was fighting fires with the Rural Fire Service elsewhere that night and watching from afar as the fire engulfed the brewery on Glenlyon Drive.

“I actually sent a text to Dee to say, ‘I think we’ve lost a business … because the whole hill was gone’,” he said.

Dee had evacuated all the guests from the brewery and cabins nestled in the trees.

“Why we haven’t lost 30 houses in the district is a miracle,” Geoff said.

The glow from a bushfire at night, casting a silhouette against the horizon of trees and buildings.

Locals kept windows open at night so they could smell the fire approaching.(ABC News: George Roberts)

The fires left thousands of people without power, forced dozens of families to flee their homes and many businesses to close.

Firefighters fought the blazes head-on and held back the flames from all but a handful of houses in the area.

Brad and Coral Krahe weren’t so lucky.

Their house was reduced to rubble and left Mr Krahe’s motorcycles a melted mess.

Coral says she fled with her animals.

“They say on the TV, you know, have your fire plan … my plan was, get the cats, get the dogs, get in the car and go, you know, that was my thing … that’s what I did,” she said.

A man and woman standing outside a house, each holding a small dog

Brad and Coral Krahe rebuilt on the same site.(ABC News: Stephen Cavenagh)

Coral recounted watching the trees around their home go up in flames.

“I was watching it from down the road and it was really awful,” she said.

“I don’t really want to go through it ever again.”

Brad said he wouldn’t want anyone else to go through it either.

The Krahes recently moved back into a house built on the site where their old home burned down.

They rebuilt with special fire-retardant features included in the design of their new house.

After Stanthorpe, new fires kept Queensland authorities busy for months as dozens of new blazes sparked almost every day across the state.

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.

The firestorm in Peregian was one of the most jaw-dropping moments in Queensland’s bushfire disaster

In Canungra on the Scenic Rim, about a dozen homes were destroyed, while properties in Peregian on the Sunshine Coast withstood a firestorm.

Police braved ember attacks to go door-to-door evacuating the residents.

Former Southern Downs mayor Tracy Dobie, who led her community through drought and water shortages, still vividly remembers waiting for the fires to come.

“I slept with my windows open, waiting for the smell of smoke because the fire danger was so severe last year … and I wasn’t the only one who did that,” she said.

A woman standing in front of a dry grassy field

Tracy Dobie remembers waiting for the fires to arrive.(ABC News: Stephen Cavenagh)

This year, rains on the Granite Belt have prompted a new outbreak of the weed African lovegrass, but haven’t been enough to break the drought.

The grass has prevented back-burning and local fire authorities remain worried it could dry out and become a hazard.

“We haven’t been able to do a lot of the burning that we would have liked simply because the grass is so green, and so fire isn’t running,” Ms Dobie said.

“So there is a lot of, you know, fuel out there for bushfires.

“Of course, 2019 was the worst anyone had ever seen here and it leaves a scar on everybody, but you learn from that.”

Bushfire-destroyed house with remnants of bed inside at Stanthorpe property.

One of the many homes destroyed by bushfire in Stanthorpe exactly a year ago.(ABC News: George Roberts)

Having water in the dams is at least providing some peace of mind.

“We have had some great rainfall, the dams are full, so the advantage this time is there is plenty of water around to fight the fires, if they do start up again this fire season,” Ms Dobie said.

Coral Krahe has a word of advice if it comes to that.

“I’d say get out — get your babies and get your animals and go,” she said.

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