Ten Years

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From Wikipedia:

Saturday, 18 January 2003 dawned as a hot, windy and dry day. Temperatures as high as 40 °C (104 °F) and winds exceeding 60 kilometres (37 miles) were the main weather features of the day. Two fires continued to burn out of control in the Namadgi National Park, with the entire park, along with the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve being closed due to the threat. A second fire in the Brindabella Ranges was threatening to break containment lines.

By 9am on the morning of Saturday 18, burned leaves appeared on lawns in houses in the Weston Creek, Kambah and Tuggeranong suburbs bordering the western extremity of Canberra.

Throughout the day, the fires burned closer to the fringes of Canberra's suburbs, and there was no sign of authorities gaining control of the situation. By mid-afternoon, it had become apparent that the fires posed an immediate threat to the settlements near Canberra such as Uriarra and Stromlo as well as houses on the city's urban bushland interface. A state of emergency was declared at 2.45pm by the ACT's Chief Minister, Jon Stanhope.

The fires reached the urban area at 3pm.

By 3.50pm houses were alight in the suburbs of Duffy and Chapman, with the loss of a home in Holder soon after.

Due to fire damage to infrastructure and extreme winds bringing down powerlines across the area, large parts of the city lost power. Fires also started in Giralang because of powerline problems. Evacuation centres were set up at four schools - Canberra College, Ginninderra College, Erindale College and Narrabundah College. A dark cloud hung over the city, and though it was not in danger, Parliament House was closed.

By 5pm, houses were reported destroyed in Duffy, Chapman, Kambah, Holder and Rivett, as well as houses in the small forestry settlement of Uriarra. It was later found that the first casualty of the fires, an elderly woman named Dorothy McGrath, died at the nearby Stromlo Forestry Settlement. Escape for residents was hampered by poor warning and the location of the settlement in the pine forest. Fires spread through the Kambah Pool area and into the suburb of Kambah causing damage to many homes and one of the ACT's primary Urban and Rural fire stations.

Fire spread through parkland, crossing the Tuggeranong Parkway, Athllon Drive and finally engulfing Mount Taylor. Within an hour, houses were also burning in Torrens on the slopes of Mount Taylor and Weston. The fires by now had inflicted severe damage to the city's infrastructure. Power supplies were cut to several suburbs. These outages affected the Emergency Services Bureau's own headquarters in Curtin and the Canberra Hospital (running on back-up generators) which was under intense pressure from people suffering burns and smoke inhalation. In Curtin, the ESA headquarters was in danger from the fires. Water, gas and landline communications was unavailable to several suburbs due to damage to supply lines and city reservoirs. Mobile telecommunications were severally affected due to increased traffic, causing serious disruption to mobile phone networks and the ESA's own radio and dispatch networks.

By 10pm, one of the four evacuation centres in Canberra was completely full, and others were filling up quickly. Reports of looting also began to arrive from the damaged areas. While the very worst of the fires had passed, the situation was still far from stable, and going into Sunday 19 January, houses were still ablaze across numerous suburbs.

I was still living in Sydney in 2003.  When this blog was a baby, I did comment on it.

For me, I was only affected by the things that were gone, things like Mt Stromlo observatory, and the pine forests (I still miss those!).

For Stu, his sister Annie was down at the coast for the day with husband Stu and baby Noah.  They returned to Canberra in the afternoon to see smoke over the city.  The only news reports they were hearing were to "return to their homes". But given they lived in Duffy they thought better of it and took Noah to Scott's. Stu was able to get back to their house. They lost their garage, but luckily for them a neighbour was at home and stayed to defend their house and saved it. Canberra was never the same for them after that, and they moved out to Yass for several years.

For my Canberra readers (most of you lurkers), I'd love to hear your stories.  Where were you that day?  How did it affect you?


Fiona said:

I wasn't yet in Canberra....

but 4 speechies lost their homes in Kambah and Duffy.

My manager in Canberra was supposed to have her first day of work as a new grad speechie that day, but given work was in Holder, next to Duffy, she was told not to go in.

I find Mt Stromlo eerie, as is walking around Duffy seeing the few old houses that didn't burn down.

January 18, 2013 11:02 AM


Yvonne said:


My childhood home burnt down in the fires in 2003, along with everything my grandfather held dear. Mt Stromlo was lost and this would have killed him, (He he not already been dead). The place of my happy years was reduced to a cinder and people I loved lost everything they owned.

January 20, 2013 9:40 AM


shinydragon said:

I was working on the checkouts of Woolies and out of the windows I could see the sky getting darker and eventually black like night in the middle of the day. My suburb got evacuated and I was really distressed because they wouldn't let me go home. At the end of my shift I ducked home and filled the van with stuff an animals then the fam drove to the evacuation centre (school) witnessing spots of flames in various locations along the short drive. The school was packed with people. I had tried to save my fish and brought them with me in a glass jar with holes in the lid but they got cooked by the heat of the engine in the van. The cat was VERY upset in its carrier and the two rabbits weren't enjoying themselves much either. My bro got an Alf toy from kind people who had donated toys to calm down upset kids. Luckily though the flames licked at the grass across the small road of our circuit, nothing was destroyed as some neighbours stayed back and fought it off. It was sad to hear about looting and once it was over witness the disintegrated homes.

Been a bit nervous this summer, I hope that there is never a repeat.

January 20, 2013 3:14 PM


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Kazza's "Boring Life Of a Geek" aka BLOG

IT geek, originally from Sydney, moved to Canberra in 2007. Married to "the sweetie", aka Stu. Prolific photographer, Lego junkie and tropical fish keeper.

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