It’s strange to think this month marks 20 years since my experience of those devastating Canberra bushfires. Yet, it wasn’t until I stumbled across this photo that some vivid memories popped up during that time trying to save our house from the fires.
At the time, we lived in a 2-storey house that backed a lovely nature reserve. Our entire street was deemed high risk because of the fact it was right in front of a nature reserve. Tragically, I recall at least one house on our street burning to the ground, with some other homes having partial sections destroyed. I remember seeing some cars melted and fused to the road — it was a scene straight out of the Terminator! To see metal reach such high temperatures to cause it to melt and attach itself permanently to the tar on the road was incredible. Our house narrowly avoided the disaster as the fire reached the steps of a section of our property.
Another vivid and unbelievable memory from that day includes the drive back from the city. After receiving a distressing call to our mobile from our mother, we had to race back home immediately. As soon as we drove back home, the sky appeared to be a black hazy red glow — unbelievable. That morning we knew there was a fire somewhere nearby, but at no time that day did we ever contemplate we’d need to help mum with the hose to save our house from the firestorm. You’d have thought someone dropped a bomb on Canberra to have a sky that dark and red.
As we approached our home, the car’s engine struggled to keep going in the thick smoke. Finally, the engine seized (probably due to the thick smoke and heat). We had no choice but to leave the car and walk the rest of the way home.
As we rushed to our front gate, we saw our mother on the roof of our house, hosing down what she could to avoid any ambers landing on the gutters. She was calm and collected and shouted instructions to us to get flammable stuff from the house and the garage and put them near our pool. We also started filling buckets of water from the pool to wet the surroundings. Our mother blocked the roof gutters with towels and filled the gutters with water to prevent flames from falling on top of the roof. By doing this, she created a water cascade around the house from the roof down. Inside the house, we soaked towels and placed them under the doors. We filled sinks and bathtubs with water to prevent fires from burning our home. We panicked, placing damp clothes on our faces because of the heat and smoke. But the fire was over as fast as the day turned from perfectly blue skies to a dark stormy night.
The aftermath isn’t something you can erase easily from your mind. Other than the damaged houses and cars on my street. I remember seeing a car that somehow lodged itself in the middle of a tree on the side of the road, splitting it into two. I recall seeing many houses burnt to the ground in another suburb on the other side of the reserve that backed our house.
The amount of dead wildlife was terrible. There was a massive bird (at the time, I thought an eagle) with wings spread out on the ground, partially burnt from the fires.
I sadly remember seeing footage on the news of residents putting up signs in their street, pleading with the public NOT to drive past and take photos, instead asking people to give them the privacy they needed at that time to cope with what had just happened. After the fires, the outdoor areas, driveway and pool were covered in black silt.
It was an eerie experience.
Were you also in Canberra at the time of the bushfires in 2003?