Monday, 14 July 2003

Canberra Bushfires

Canberra ( pronounced CAN-bruh ) is a relatively small city of 300,000 people, spread over an area somewhat larger than Luxembourg. Earlier this year, just before the Iraq war, we had the dubious honour of joining a very select list. The list of cities that have experienced a Firestorm. That's a very select list indeed. Hamburg, Rostock, Dresden, Hiroshima, and Canberra. Neither Nagasaki nor Oakland quite qualify, though by all accounts the latter was very similar to the situation in Canberra. About 5 square miles burnt out in Oakland, compared with over a hundred in Canberra. Fortunately, it only nibbled at the edges: it destroyed some 500 houses, plus sundry schools, medical centres, and observatories. But thankfully, it only claimed 4 lives.

Telegraph poles blown over

The Firestorm is a meteorological phenomenon, where the conflagration makes its own local weather pattern. To anyone who's experienced it, it's simply this : a Hurricane of Fire, that picks up trees and flings them burning across the landscape, bowling down powerpoles and often freakishly leaving surrounding areas intact.

The sun grew dark.

Broad Daylight turned into a Red Haze, then as Black as the deepest Midnight. The winds grew stronger and stronger, the stench of woodfire turning into thick, choking, rolling clouds of smoke. Amidst it all, burning embers fell here and there, and to the unlucky, turning into an avalanche of fire.

The Firestorm approaches

As for the residents - we were given the choice, evacuate or prepare to fight. The choice was ours, and to be made on the basis of cold calculation of our chances. Could we get away if things turned to custard? What about dependents? I, like most others, prepared to fight. There are many elderly in our street, and they would have needed time to get away. As it was, the worst thing that happened was a few burning twigs and leaves causing spotfires in our suburb - nothing to worry about, we doused them quickly.

A Hose vs the Firsetorm

In all honesty, it was no big deal for us, unlike for many. We were prepared, with hoses, buckets and tubs at the ready, gutters blocked and filled with water. But I'd rather not go through it again, thanks very much.


All photos are links to some found in the Canberra Bushfire Photos page.

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