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Fires in Canberra - long(4 posts)

Fires in Canberra - longwillem72
Jan 21, 2003 2:54 PM
Well here I am at work in Canberra on Tuesday morning after the dramatic fires on the weekend. I'm okay. I have not been directly affected.

On Sunday morning I went to the big Belconnen shopping mall to buy new swimming togs. As I strolled along the quiet corridors of shops I realised that I was dutifully - if inadvertantly - obeying George W Bush's injunction to a shocked America on 12 September 2001: "Get out and shop!". David Suzuki and others have seen 11 September as a lost opportunity, a turning point missed as the US continued to charge headlong into an unsustainable consumerist smash-and-grab on the environment and the world's poor. So here I was, wandering through a big sports store ironically named Rebel, inclined to think that despite the tragedies in Canberra's southern and western suburbs only 18 hours before, life could be lived normally.

S and I had pedalled past Eucumbene Drive, Duffy, the first street to bear the brunt of the fire's impetuous and seemingly unstoppable incursion into Canberra's quiet middle-class way of life, on our normal Saturday morning excursion "out the back", past Mt Stromlo, through the Cotter, over Mount MacDonald and into Uriarra Crossing. All seemed normal. Five hours later, it exploded. Bushfires had been burning for 10 days, and Canberra was already reluctantly accustomed to the pall of woodsmoke that hangs over the city even now. In fact, at the corner of Eucumbene Drive and Cotter Road, where we met our friend M, it was a good five degrees C cooler than where we live, in the inner northern suburbs, and not so smoky - good signs, or so we thought. Burnt leaves were falling from the sky, and in the Cotter Valley the air was hazy. The smoke made me cough as I rode up Mount Mac. A squadron of firetrucks and 4WDs laden with tired and dirty firefighters cruised by, turning left at Uriarra Homestead to head south towards the firefront, still deep in the valleys of Namadgi National Park, a good 15 kms from the nearest residential street.

I arrived home at midday, after helping an injured cyclist on the Lake Bikepath and quaffing a coffee in town. On the bus at 1:00 PM, the smoke seemed to have increased, it was a enervating 40 degrees, and ash and grit was swirling everywhere carried by a brisk westerly wind. In the cafe where I read the papers and ate a sandwich it was quiet, but not deserted. I met S. The power was cutting in and out, and at one shop a bloke told us that a bunch of suburbs were being evacuated and houses were on fire. It was 2:30 on Saturday. We went to S's place. She lives near a large area of bushland called the O'Connor Ridge, and with the neighbours, we took preliminary precautions, filling the gutters with water, readying garden hoses and buckets of water, monitoring the ABC on the radio and watching for embers drifting in from the west, from the direction of the Ridge.

Canberra is a small city of only 320,000, and at one stage mid-afternoon it seemed that half the city was on alert and under direct threat. The worst areas were on the south-western perimeter and the outer suburbs of Belconnen in the north-west. But fire was also reaching into the central southern suburbs of the Woden Valley, and suddenly, wreaking havoc in a north-eastern suburb, Giralang, a good 20kms from the main front. It seemed that every few minutes another area was added to the alert list on the radio, and many (including federal representative Annette Ellis) had fears that the fire was unstoppable and would burn the entire city.

By night, all was quiet. A cool and gentle south-easterly wind soothed the scorched and smouldering city. S and I pored over maps of Canberra as the radio presenters read out long lists of individual streets that had been burnt, plotting a topography of shock and destruction. People were calling in and telling grim stories of fighting fires in front yards, back yards, neighbour's yards and in the streets.
re: Fires in Canberra - part 2willem72
Jan 21, 2003 2:59 PM
The emergency services people decided the Giralang fire was due to sparking electricity wires in the high winds. Some firefighters put out a grass fire lit by a couple of idiot teenagers at Mitchell. At S's house it was clear the immediate threat had passed, and we relaxed a little.

Burranjuk Drive in Duffy is now infamous, gutted by a massive firestorm which blasted out of the Stromlo pine forest at the height of the crisis. For the last five months my friend K and I have coasted down that street two mornings a week on our regular training ride. Last Wednesday I saw a nice house for sale there and briefly wondered if I wanted to buy it, but a quick glance across the road at the pine trees and long grass and I knew the risk was unacceptable. Now that house and all the other houses on that street are gone. K's dry comment yesterday was, "won't the Duffy loop seem weird now."

The house at Rivett in which S grew up is gone, one of over 420 that are either damaged or completely destroyed.

So what happened Sunday? S kindly bought my togs and a swimming cap for me - my birthday gift. The togs look ridiculous with my cyclist's tan and skinny legs, but they'll do the job. As we left the mall and walked into the smoky air outside, the carpark was filling up. Just as it seemed for me, life was going on for most of Canberra, and apart from the haze and a new topic of conversation, it was nearly like normal.

Our world flings drama and tragedy at us all the time. The news piles upon us at such a rate that it can seem we never have a chance to dwell upon the latest momentus events. Most of us have adapted to this rollercoaster ride of modern life, learned how to move on, and get on, learned to adopt a watchful attitude, scanning life for the next episode, occasionally stepping out of harm's way or fending off a blow. In the meantime we fight the everyday battles, celebrate the tiny triumphs. And shop.

re: Fires in Canberra - part 2cp123
Jan 22, 2003 7:34 PM
Hi w 72 - tell S that I send her my condolences for her parents place. And glad you both weren't out riding in it. I have many friends that have lost houses and horses in the fire - the suburbs involved were on the outer fringe and contained well over a thousand horses agisted at various centres. My own horse and his place escaped unscathed, apart from a number that are now developing severe lung infections and delayed smoke inhalation effects.

I spent saturday afternoon evacuating horses in my trailer from Kambah pool road down near gleneagles. There was a constant procession of at least 200 people leading and riding them and their friends horses to safety. At least 100 got to the local golf course, and another 150 or so camped the night on the local primary school oval. Shall I say it was pretty freaky. Tuggie Parkway was closed to "normal" traffic, but I had no alternative with the horses on board. Mt Arawang was burning down the hill towards us on the left and it had already jumped over the road to Mt Taylor and was screaming up that hill.

Then whether it was temperature or just bad luck or wear and tear that happened at a very unfortunate moment, my car conked out and i had to leave it there right in the firing line (scuse the pun). Swapped the trailer onto another car and taken back to my own horse place by people I didn't know. On the way back the next day to collect my car I passed one of many totally burnt out shells of cars and houses totally destroyed. My car was lucky. Cosmetic and smoke damage only and it was fixed by the NRMA later that day.

My greatest sympathies go out to all the affected people of Canberra - and especially the families of the victims.
Jan 21, 2003 6:32 PM
I lived there from 97-99, and it looked like a tinder box. Used to MTB in Stromlo forest. With all the pines, it must have gone in an instant. At least you won't have to look at those ugly misplaced trees anymore. Hopefully they'll replant it with gum. Hope the damage in Namadgi wasn't bad. What a beautiful, beautiful place....

Ridding down to the Cotter from the Lake path was what really got me turned on to road biking again....