Posted by: peterhact | February 21, 2009

My recollections of the 2003 bushfires

I am reminded of my own personal experiences of the bushfires by the recent Victorian Fires.

My story is probably not dissimilar to those of many others, I don’t remember the times that it all happened, but here are the events…

The night before the fires hit Canberra, I could see the outline of flames out past the Brindabellas, close to the ridge line near Kambah Pool.

There weren’t any warnings about the oncoming fire, so we took no notice of it, apart from being very careful to pack up a box of insurance papers, and our wedding album. (just in case)

The next morning, we went to bunnings for some hoses and sprinklers, they had nearly sold out of the lot.

we went home, and my wife had a lie down. I was trying to find out what was going on, but the internet kept dropping out. Outside got darker and darker. It was about 1pm. I went outside to see what was going on, it was a strange red brown colour, and the wind was starting to pick up. I went to the petrol station and filled up the car, the bowsers were resetting as I filled up, the attendant was looking to shut down, as they had no idea how much fuel was being sold.

when i got home, the wind was really roaring, or so i thought. Then, I saw the fires. the ridge line above kambah was well and truly ablaze. over towards Chapman, the hill – don’t recall the name, was showing a plume of smoke, with red flashes in it. I stood out the front, chatting to a neighbor about the sight. we then heard the roaring sound, coming closer. There were fireballs leaping down the hill, and the roaring was the fire as it was rushing towards us. I had never heard anything like it before. Then, the “embers” started to fall around us. They weren’t small, rather, massive lumps of wood, and where they landed, spot fires were starting. I was standing there, in a singlet, jeans and thongs. I just grabbed the hose and put them out. I then bolted inside to switch on the radio, and all we got was music on both of the commercial fm stations. I woke my wife, who got the car out of the garage, and we packed it up with all the things we had in our box, as well as a bag of clothes for her.

I CLIMBED onto the roof – not very smart, and saw the inferno heading towards us. I tied a soaker hose to the ridge line climbed back down, and turned on the hose. I noticed a fire truck go screaming up our street, then 5 minutes later come screaming back. This was when we decided to go. I then stuffed the cats into the cat carriers, locked up the house, and we drove off, heading for the kambah pool road. it was blocked by a wall of flame, so we headed back to the parkway, also blocked. we went up inkster, as the gum trees started to fall, and doubled back to atthlon. as we were heading up atthlon, the fire was all around us. we punched through, and, on the other side, blue sky. sunshine. no fires at all. in the rear view, you would have thought a volcano had erupted. it was like dante’s inferno.

We decided to drive to Goulburn. we didn’t know if the fires were in the northern suburbs, and didn’t want to be trapped again.

when we reached goulburn, we found that there was a mass of like minded Canberrans, many of which were from kambah. I had been trying to raise my father, his mobile was off, which was strange, and the home phone was ringing out. An hour later, it went dead.

My uncle has since told me that this is when the fires burnt the phone. My father phoned me, to advise that the fires had taken his house. we were looked after by a motel owner, who let the cats share our room. we slept that night convinced that our house was destroyed.

next morning, we drove back to see what we could salvage. The house was untouched, the fires were stopped by the firies 200m from our place. we probably left far too late, but we made it. I made sure i wrote a letter of thanks to the motel, and donated a large amount to the bushfire appeal and the firies who lost their own property.

Bushfire smoke, even now, makes me nervous. Images of fires are enough to make me panic… This will pass, in time.

oh, i forgot to mention. My bag of clothes were still on the bed, where in our haste we had left them. I was pretty smelly the next day, but at least we were alive…



  1. That’s terrifying, Peter. Makes you realise what a lot of the people in Victoria have just been through. No wonder we are seeing pictures of little kids crying!

  2. Interesting article, I’ve bookmarked it to read again. This post was really a worthwhile find.

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