The Extent and Severity of the Mackay Highlands 2018 Wildfires

Hines, H. B., Brook, M., Wilson, J., McDonald, W. J. F., & Hargreaves, J. (2020)


During an unprecedented fire season in Queensland in 2018, a complex of fires burnt in the Mackay Highlands region of Queensland. Some of these fires had been burning continuously since August, but an extreme heatwave in November caused the rapid expansion of intense fire, just prior to the wet season breaking. The fires affected 12 areas of Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) managed estate, with approximately 71,000 ha or 41% of this estate burnt. In this paper, we document the methods used to map the extent and severity of these fires and consider the potential impacts on natural values, within QPWS managed estate. Extensive areas (57,113 ha) of eucalypt woodlands and forests were burnt. Whilst fire adapted, the extent of fire and the high proportion burnt at very high to extreme severity in these ecosystems are likely to have affected a range of significant species. Of particular concern was the area (11,217 ha) of rainforest and scrub communities burnt, particularly cloud rainforests in the Eungella-Crediton area. These are highly fire-sensitive ecosystems and our observations suggest that, even at very low fire severity, impacts are likely highly significant and long lasting. This event provides an important opportunity to assess in detail the ecological effects of fire to inform conservation management of these fire-sensitive communities. With the predicted increases in the frequency, magnitude and duration of heatwaves, fires will become more common within mesic vegetation communities hitherto considered self-protected from fire.