Today is the tenth anniversary of the Canberra Firestorm – when bushfires jumped containment lines across the border and came into Australia’s capital city, killing four people, burning 70% of the Australian Capital Territory, and destroying more than 500 homes and buildings. It was also the first time a fire tornado was recorded. Propelled by 40 °C (104 °F) temperatures and extreme winds, unlike other fires that reach regional areas, the firestorm in Canberra brought destruction to inner city suburbs and national monuments.
Unfortunately all of my pictures from that day have disappeared somewhere! Go HERE to see a scary graphic of how the fires jumped the border and came into the city.
Canberra is a unique city, as it was designed to have the bush running all the way through it. You see kangaroos jumping around the streets, and you can go on long bushwalks without even leaving the suburbs. Go to one of the mountain lookouts in the city and you can see far more trees than houses. There were also pine plantations growing up to the edges of the west of the city. Eucalyptus and pine = not a good combination in fire conditions.
The pine plantation burning. Credit SMH.
For days leading up to the fires, Canberra was clouded in smoke. Everything was yellow, and the sun glowed orange and pink, making everything look really strange. On the actual day of the fires we were in the car, headed to Lake Burley Griffin in the centre of the city. On the way there, the radio reported rumours of homes on fire in the suburb of Duffy, but we didn’t really believe it; since when did the capital city burn?
This is what we saw from the lake – but I can’t find our (better!) pictures. Credit.
However, when we got to the lake, conditions were atrocious. A few minutes later, a huge black cloud of smoke came across the sky, blown over from where suburbs in Weston Creek were on fire.
So we hurried home. By then the sky was completely black, and the hills in our suburbs were burning.
When we got home it was raining ash and embers, and the sky turned bright red.
Because of helicopters water-bombing over us, the fire was stopped a few streets from our house. We spent the whole night up, listening to the emergency sirens on the radio and waiting to see if we needed to evacuate.
One thing that was completely infuriating about that day was that – as usual – the ‘national’ news out of Sydney didn’t even bother reporting anything was happening in the nation’s capital until after the worst of the destruction. I remember being so mad, seeing fires burning all around us outside, and the Sydney news reporting their usual local human interest (read: cute baby animal) stories!
Ten years later it is another unbearably hot day. There have been small fires burning in the district on and off for a few weeks. However, I think people learnt a lot that day, and now we’re better prepared.