REGION REMEMBERS: These were some of the worst disasters to hit the Southern Downs in recent years. Picture: contributed, file
REGION REMEMBERS: These were some of the worst disasters to hit the Southern Downs in recent years. Picture: contributed, file

WHEN DISASTER STRIKES: Floods, fires that defined a decade

ACTIVATE YOUR FREE COURIER MAIL SUBSCRIPTION NOW FOR BIG REWARDS

From floods to fires, wild thunderstorms to crippling drought, Southern Downs residents are no strangers to extreme weather and disasters.

It was all hands on deck for emergency services, SES volunteers, and community members to give those affected by the often-devastating events a fighting chance.

These were some of the most significant natural events and disasters to hit the Southern Downs in the past decade:

Aerial shot of Warwick devastated by 2011 floods. Picture: John Towells (pilot Peter Lindores)
Aerial shot of Warwick devastated by 2011 floods. Picture: John Towells (pilot Peter Lindores)

2011 FLOODS

The 2011 floods that swept across Warwick were arguably the most devastating and memorable weather event of the past decade.

The first floodwaters washed across the Rose City in late December, 2010, causing Freestone Creek to burst its banks and sparking fears Leslie Dam would begin to overflow.

Those concerns were confirmed in the second wave of flooding in January, 2011, with the dam overflowing at 60,000ML per day and widespread flooding and many evacuations across Warwick.

The Warwick Hockey Association reported $500,000-$750,000 in damages, with countless other residents, farmers, and businesses left with almost nothing.

The region was left with a $100 million damages bill after the December floods, and Southern Downs Regional Council reported another $40 million in repairs to roads and infrastructure.

Memories of the devastation have not faded over the past decade, with the event forming part of a statewide flood disaster which saw 78 per cent of Queensland declared a disaster zone.

TALGAI DAM BURSTING

Dozens of residents were evacuated when Bolzan Quarry Dam in Talgai burst on February 15 last year.

Water began gushing from a 3.5m hole in the 430ML dam, with emergency services and then-Southern Downs Mayor Tracy Dobie issuing a warning to 5000 residents between Talgai West Road and Dalrymple Creek Road.

The breach in the wall expanded to about 5m, with the dam continuing to leak intermittently into the neighbouring creek.

Evacuated residents were eventually able to return to their homes after several days, with minimal property damage reported.

The admin building at Warwick East State School, the oldest in Queensland, is destroyed by fire.
The admin building at Warwick East State School, the oldest in Queensland, is destroyed by fire.

WARWICK EAST SCHOOL FIRE

Warwick residents are unlikely to forget the day an enormous fire tore through Warwick East State School in July, 2019, decimating parts of one of Queensland’s oldest schools.

Despite weeks of investigation by Queensland Fire and Emergency Services, the sheer ferocity of the blaze prevented its exact cause from being determined.

A Department of Education spokesman told the Daily News at the time it was most likely an electrical fault that sparked the fire, with no suspicion of arson.

Now almost two years after the fire, a multimillion restoration project is underway, which will leave the school with a two-storey learning centre and new administration building.

Killarney main street swamped by floodwaters in 2017 flood event.
Killarney main street swamped by floodwaters in 2017 flood event.

KILLARNEY FLOODS

The popular Southern Downs town and tourist destination has seen its fair share of floods in the past decade.

Killarney’s main street was swamped by floodwaters during the 2011 disaster, which prompted the installation of an $80,000 warning system four years later.

It was almost exactly two years later when disaster struck again in January, 2013.

Business owners told the Daily News at the time the flooding was some of the worst they’d seen, with the extensive damage and pervasive smell requiring many to completely refit their interiors.

The flood-prone town was again inundated in 2017, when a flow-on weather system from ex-Tropical Cyclone Debbie brought a significant amount of rain to the area.

With SES volunteers door-knocking to warn residents of the severe weather, businesses were able to make hasty arrangements to protect their stock and livelihoods.

Even the best preparations couldn’t prevent much of Willow Street going under, with dozens of residents pitching in to help clean up.

DEVASTATING DROUGHT

Much of the past decade has been plagued by drought for Southern Downs producers, with many labelling it the worst on record.

Forcing countless families off the land and others into severe hardship, this drought has left almost no member of the community unscathed.

Even after a La Nina wet season bringing some above-average rainfall to the region, experts warn the drought is far from over.

Photograph taken by Stanthorpe resident Keith Barnett on the afternoon of the September bushfires.
Photograph taken by Stanthorpe resident Keith Barnett on the afternoon of the September bushfires.

STANTHORPE BUSHFIRES

One of the most devastating bushfire events to hit the region in years, the 2019 Stanthorpe bushfires forced hundreds of residents to flee their properties.

The fast-moving blaze affected Stanthorpe, Applethorpe, and Happy Valley, with evacuees directed to crisis centres south of Stanthorpe and in Warwick.

Power was cut to thousands of homes in the Stanthorpe and Warwick areas for public safety, and a significant number of roads and properties were damaged.

The fires are believed to have been accidentally started by a group of backpackers emptying ash from their fireplace, but no one was charged over the incident.

2020 FLOODS

Communities across the Southern Downs rejoiced when a deluge of rain hit the region in February last year, after months of seemingly endless drought.

Up to 140mm fell in areas across the region, with flood warnings put in place for Warwick, Stanthorpe, and Goondiwindi.

The Condamine River, Glengallan Creek, and Dalrymple Creek rose by several metres, and a number of Warwick roads were cut off by floodwaters.

The huge rainfall totals also swelled dam levels, with Leslie Dam rising from 7.66 per cent to 10.14 per cent in less than a day.

Smaller towns across the region such as Leyburn also celebrated significant rains, recording 91mm in just 24 hours in the same month.

See a full gallery of the weather event here.



Six rushed to hospital after gas leak at Warwick workplace

Premium Content Six rushed to hospital after gas leak at Warwick workplace

The ammonia leak triggered a full emergency services operation at the Rosehill Rd...

FULL LIST: Warwick Magistrates Court appearances for today

Premium Content FULL LIST: Warwick Magistrates Court appearances for today

Here is a list of matters listed at Warwick Magistrates Court