Fifteen Years

Go just over a minute in for footage of firemen driving through the streets around here. The video is from the middle of a summer’s day – not nighttime!

I’ve mentioned this disaster before, but today is the fifteenth anniversary of the firestorm that tore through Canberra, Australia’s capital city. Unlike other bushfires, this one burnt into the city itself, claiming lives and destroying many hundreds of houses, other buildings, and even national establishments.

It was the first time a fire tornado was recorded.

2003_bushfire_progress-MJC 2003 Canberra Firestorm Graphic

In this freakish graphic, you can see how 70% of the Territory was overtaken by fire in a few days. I was in the city when it began, and then we raced home to the top of the big patch of yellowish suburbia at the bottom when it got really bad. The fire was stopped two streets from me by the water-bombing helicopters. Many houses, some abandoned cars on the main roads, and all of the bush and national parks around us burnt.

^^What Parliament House looked like when we realised there was a serious problem at home, and got in the car to drive back. The smoke is coming from the burning suburbs near us. It was about 3pm here.

This was before Facebook or any of that, so we all had the radios on, listening to the updates. Every few minutes a loud siren would play – like we didn’t already know how bad it was!

We sat there all afternoon and night – everyone in every household in southern and western Canberra – hoses in hands, spread out across the front and back gardens and on the roofs, watching to see if any of the embers caught fire in a tree or a bush – or on a house. Ash and embers rained down on us the whole time – the sound of all these things dropping from above us was terrifying, and there was nothing we could do about it. For a whole week leading up to the fire black, burnt leaves had been falling from the sky and covering everything. However, the New South Wales fire people didn’t send a warning (to the Australian Capital Territory) that the fire had jumped containment lines and was about to hit us. Most of our Territory is bushland and national park. Eucalyptus and pine trees – so flammable.

National Science and Technology Centre Canberra Enlighten 2013 Sonya Heaney

In the image above – of the National Science and Technology Centre during the Enlighten Canberra festival – you can see a statue taken from the wreckage of the Mount Stromlo Observatory. It now lives in the centre of town.

The images below (from Wikimedia Commons) are from before the sky turned blacker than night, and then bright red. All the photos are of places I was on that day. When everything went black, it started raining embers, and the flames started rolling down the mountains that surround us, things got really scary in our part of town. (What looks like lights in the first picture is all fire.)

2003_Canberra_Firestorm-Woden 2003 Canberra Firestorm. 18th January 2003 Canberra_hills-18-01-2003

2003_Canberra_Firestorm-Woden Photo of Woden Town Centre during the height of the 2003 Canberra Firestorm. 18th January 2003

2003_Canberra_Firestorm- 2003 Canberra Firestorm. 18th January 2003 Canberra_hills-18-01-2003 2003CanberraBushfires.

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2 thoughts on “Fifteen Years

  1. Pingback: Heatwave for a bushfire anniversary. | Capital life and random beauty…

  2. Pingback: The Week: 15th – 21st January – Sonya's Stuff

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