ACT News

LIVE coverage: 2003 firestorm ten years on

Thanks to everyone who shared their stories, photos, and thoughts with us today.

To finish things off, here are some memories of January 18, 2003, as shared on social media.

Thanks for joining us.

And as we wrap up the blog for today, we have news that the ACT has set a new record for January heat - and it is the second hottest day on record for the territory.

 

Canberra is having its second hottest day on record, and its hottest January day ever, with the mercury going past 41 degrees at 2.05pm.

As Canberra paused to commemorate ten years since the devastating firestorm of 2003, the Bureau of Meteorology's latest observations put the day's high point at  41.6 degrees.

"The highest recorded maximum temperature was 42.2 degrees on February 1, 1968 followed closely by 41.4 desgrees on the previous day (January 31, 1968)," the bureau's website says.

Sydney has also set a new record for temperature, where it topped out at 45.7 degrees at 2.54pm.

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“It’s still probably one of the best days of my life.”

Alexandra Bagnara’s memories of January 18, 2003, are not typical of most Canberrans. It was her wedding day, and she was to marry man of her dreams, James Hibberson, in the early afternoon at Lanyon Homestead.

“I was completely oblivious to what was going on,” Ms Bagnara recalled.

“It was really quite far off in the distance and I think, like many Canberrans, we were just unaware of the situation.

“There were roadblocks towards the venue and we figured that if there were any issues, we wouldn’t have been allowed through.”

The wedding photos from the day, which Ms Bagnara describes as “spectacular”, tell the story as well as any words. There is the beautiful bride, the beaming bridesmaid, the proud father – but all encased in an eerie orange glow.

Read the full article

Megan Doherty
Ione Kitson  in the rubble of her Stromlo forestry settlement home.
Ione Kitson in the rubble of her Stromlo forestry settlement home. 

The images of Ione Kitson in the rubble of her Stromlo forestry settlement home were among the most powerful from the aftermath of the January 18 firestorm.

A decade after the disaster, Ms Kitson said she was feeling many emotions.

The single mum and her brother Derek Hamilton had to run for their lives as the inferno took hold and the house exploded. Her daughters Valerie, now 24, and Sian, now 20, were just children at the time and, fortunately, not at the house when the firestorm hit.

"The feeling that comes to surface was relief that my family was saved. It was a close call for everyone but we all managed to survive," Ms Kitson said.

"Sadness, also, that we lost so much and my children lost a lot of innocence in their childhood.

Read the full article

http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/we-lost-stuff-but-we-gained-other-things-20130118-2cxz3.html

Photographer Rohan Thomson was at the official ceremony this morning and the opening of the Past Present Future exhibition. He's captured some great shots that really capture the emotion of the day. Have a look through them below.

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His smiling face epitomised the hard work of many of the volunteers who helped protect Canberra from even worse devestation in January 2003. John-Paul Moloney tracked down Andre Sneyers and gives us this update.

 

He became, purely by being in the right place at the right time, one of the faces of the Canberra bushfires.

Andre Sneyers’ beaming smile and smoke blackened face represented all the men and women who had fought the fires and helped their neighbours out when The Canberra Times published an ‘Everyday Heroes’ special on January 26, 2003.

Snapped by CT photographer Graham Tidy at the Curtin emergency services staging point, Mr Sneyers was and still is a volunteer member of the Rural Fire Service’s Jerrabomberra Brigade.

Since 2003 he has been as active in fighting fires as his work and family commitments allow. He works for TAMs as a tree assessor and is raising two sons, Lucas, 11, and Jared, 8 with wife Louise.

Today he is remembering the hard decision to leave his family at their Pearce home to go and join his brigade.

And he’s also remembering the strange feeling of being seem as a face of the firefighting efforts.

‘‘That made me realise how small and connected a community Canberra was.  I remember a Sunday morning getting a phone call at home from someone who’d looked me up and wanted to ring to thank me,’’ he said.

Megan Doherty

It was a T-shirt with a simple and heartfelt message. It made its first appearance not long after the January 18 firestorm in 2003. And today - on the 10th anniversary - Johanna Hauritz thought it was the ‘‘perfect day’’ to bring it back out of the wardrobe.

The front of the T-shirt featured that fateful date 18.1.03 and, on the back, were the words ‘‘For those who tried...thank you’’. It was a message to all the emergency services workers who had toiled on the fires. The rented home of her mother Pat Leifsson,  in Somerset Street, Duffy, was destroyed in the fires.

Ms Hauritz, 30, of Kambah, wore the T-shirt at today’s commemoration service at the ACT Bushfire Memorial.
‘‘We got the T-shirts at a charity event held about a month or so after the fires. We had some friends who were firefighters and some lost their homes in the fires,’’ she said.

‘‘I just think they’re amazing people to do what they do. They were protecting other people’s homes while theirs were being destroyed. They were the nicest people, even afterwards,  they were checking everyone was okay. There’s a certain type of person who becomes a Rural Fire Service person and we’re lucky to have them.’’

Johanna Hauritz thought it was the ‘‘perfect day’’ to bring this T-shirt back out of the wardrobe.
Johanna Hauritz thought it was the ‘‘perfect day’’ to bring this T-shirt back out of the wardrobe. Photo: Rohan Thomson
The fire danger sign outside the gates of Stromlo today.
The fire danger sign outside the gates of Stromlo today. Photo: Hamish Boland-Rudder

While we collect your stories, it's time for a reminder of today's fire danger.

The temperature in Canberra hit 39.6 degrees at 1.11pm, and the winds have picked up significantly since this morning, with gusts measured up to 61km/h at the airport.

After this morning's memorial at Stromlo Forest Park, the SES were on hand to help close the park due to the fire risk. A total fire ban is still in place.

Other parks and nature reserves include:

  • Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve (the Visitor Centre will remain open);
  • selected roads within Namadgi National Park including Apollo Road, Orroral Road, Old Mill Road, Warks Road, Mount Franklin Road at Piccadilly Circus, and the Corin Dam Road (the Namadgi Visitor Centre will remain open);
  • Googong Foreshores;
  • Kowen Forest;
  • Lower Molonglo River Corridor; and
  • Mulligans Flat Woodlands Sanctuary.

If you need further information on exactly what is closed and what is open, TAMS recommends you call Canberra Connect on 13 22 81.

Megan Doherty

Canberra legend Robert De Castella, who lost his Chapman home in the 2003 firestorm, believes the national capital is a stronger city 10 years after the disaster.

"Any hardship that you go through really tests you and, hopefully, you rise to meet the challenge. And when you get through it, or you make progress, you look back with a sense of self-respect," he said.

"I think from an individual perspective, but also a community perspective, it's time for Canberra to reflect on how it managed. Obviously people made mistakes but I think, overall, a lot of really great things have come out of it."

Read the full article

Former champion marathon runner Robert de Castella lost his Chapman home in the 2003 firestorm.
Former champion marathon runner Robert de Castella lost his Chapman home in the 2003 firestorm. Photo: Rohan Thomson

Harry Saddler has emailed in from Melbourne, where he now lives, telling us he is finding it very difficult to do any work today as “my head and my heart are back home in Canberra, the city I grew up in”.

 

On the 18th of January 2003 I was alone in my parents' house (though later my brother joined me) in Yarralumla, a safe distance from the fires.  Nonetheless there was a sense of dread and horror and fear that pervaded the city that day - brought home by the constant rain of burnt gumleaves that fell out of the sky all day long.  

I knew two families who lost their houses in Weston Creek - as I'm sure does everyone else who was in Canberra at that time.  Strangely I can't remember the black sky or the darkness that day but I can remember the awful yellow smoke that hung over the city for weeks afterwards; I can remember eating with my family out of an esky for days while we waited for the power to be restored.  

I can remember realising with shock and despair that Namadgi National Park - where I'd gone bushwalking many times with my father - had been completely razed. I can remember going with a friend to the ruins of her house in Chapman the next weekend to find what we could - and seeing on the bare and ashen hill behind her block a sheet of corrugated iron which had been ripped off somebody's house by the wind and wrapped like a piece of paper around a dead tree.

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Wilbur the pet pig and his mate Leo the cavalier cool down under the tap together.
Wilbur the pet pig and his mate Leo the cavalier cool down under the tap together. 

Earlier in the morning we mentioned there were some unusual guests at this morning's anniversary celebrations, held at the 2003 bushfire memorial.

We can now bring you a photo of Wilbur the pet pig and Leo the cavalier, who attended the ceremony and were keeping cool under a tap while proceedings took place.

Very cute indeed.

Also in response to Faces of Fire, Stephen Hood of Fraser sent in a number of photographs taken from the top of Mount Rogers as the fire was sweeping through Weston Creek and some from several years later at Mt Stromlo.

I had sold my old house in Duffy a few years before the fires so I was wondering at the time from the top of Mount Rogers what houses might be affected, including my own old house.

Sadly that house and so many others were being devastated as I watched the billowing smoke.

The photos don't do justice to the dark wall of ash that was being blown behind Telstra Tower.

 

Scott Hannaford, who is responsible for putting together the Faces of the Fire special website, has also put together an interactive map showing the damage caused by the fire. You can see the total burnt area, or go through house by house to see the level of damage recorded by the ACT Government.

Click here to see the map

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In response to our Faces of the Fire interactive presentation, Nick Proud wrote in to share his story. Nick was living and working in Canberra in 2003 and was heavily involved in fundraising efforts after the fires. Remarkably he spent the Christmas holidays just past in Tasmania as devastating fires gripped the east coast there, and his family was required to evacuate their holiday home.

For Nick, it brought back “vivid memories” of the 2003 fires:

Ten years ago I was working as the General Manager of the Australian Hotels Association (AHA) in the region and was working with others in the office on Saturday January 18 2003. With trees loosing branches, high gusts and further upgrades to fire warnings, all staff went home as did I.

Although the devastation was becoming evident, it wasn’t until Sunday that the real extent of the destruction was known.

I was contacted early in the day by ABC radio and 2CA who wanted an update on what the AHA was able to do to help with the aftermath, which included free hot beds (8 hour beds in hotels for fire fighters), blankets and food donations were already being coordinated. The interviewer asked whether there was an appeal that could be contributed to. On concluding the telephone call it was apparent that nothing was set up, so with that realisation so began the task of coordinating Red Cross, Westpac and ACT Hotels to print signs, distribute collection cups and promote a relief campaign which was up and running on the Monday morning.

By the Tuesday AHA launched the ACT Bushfires relief appeal across all hotels and Westpac branches nationally – extraordinarily, within 8 weeks $240,000 had been raised. A dummy cheque and a handover was made from AHA’s Michael Capezio, Westpac’s national CEO David Morgan to then Chief Minister Jon Stanhope.

Having just spent this 2012-13 Christmas/summer at Primrose Sands, Connelys Marsh and Dunalley in Tasmania at the family shack (Primrose Sands), and being required to evacuate the shack last Friday due to the proximity to the fire (3-5kms away) the ordeal in 2003 came back very vividly.

Last Thursday/Friday my explanation of the 2003 fires to people at Primrose Sands just didn’t sink in to those, who now in hindsight, witnessed a frightening 48 hours that they will never forget. Having stayed with friends homes in Dunalley, had the odd beer at the RSL and countless pies at the bakery that were all burnt last Friday evening, and with history repeating to an extent from 2003, I am forwarding this overview of the 2003 experience as it is important to relay the events and ensure that that people aren’t complacent today or in the future.

From this terrible tragedy of 2003, ironically, the experience of coordinating an appeal here in the ACT was crucial for me to be able to start the UTAS Save the Tasmanian Devil Appeal in Tasmania when I moved to Tasmania later in 2003. The UTAs appeal which brought awareness to the disease and raised many millions of dollars to find a cure, would not have happened if it wasn’t for the Canberra fires, but that is another story.

 

Judy Zilber has emailed in with this photo showing how some neighbours and friends from Holder and Duffy commemorated the anniversary.

[We had] breakfast in one of the new homes with lots of stories and some good laughs too! We all 'survived' and life has given us so much since that terrible day!

Judy Zilber and friends and neighbours commemorated the 10 year anniversary at breakfast in one of the new homes.
Judy Zilber and friends and neighbours commemorated the 10 year anniversary at breakfast in one of the new homes. 
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Proceedings have pretty much wrapped up at the ceremony in Weston, but we'd still like to hear some more of your stories about the fire. Email us at online@canberratimes.com.au or leave your comments below.

Megan Doherty

ACT Chief Minster Katy Gallagher has told a commemoration service that January 18, 2003 will remain a defining date in Canberra’s history, and one that should always be remembered and respected.

More than 200 people attended the service to mark the 10th anniversary of the January 18 fire storm in which four people died, almost 500 homes were destroyed and hundreds of people were injured.

The four people who died in the fires were remembered, and a bunch of pink flowers was placed near the bushfire memorial for Alison Tener. They were left by her then husband David Tener and their sons Adam, Jason and Simon.

At the end of the ceremony people placed flowers on a reflective pond: white for remembrance and purple for pride.

Read the full article

Sally Pryor

Canberra Times reporter Sally Pryor was at the launch of the Past Present Future exhibition at Mount Stromlo this morning.

This from Sally:

As a site to mark a horrifying event, the setting and the weather couldn’t have been better.

The Mount Stromlo Observatory is one of the enduing symbols of the 2003 fires, and, for the next month at least, it will be the repository of memories and reflections as the site of a new exhibition.

Past Present Future is an exhibition of photos, artworks, footage, personal belongings and individual stories – all stemming from the same, unforgettable day, but telling the story in many different ways.

Read the rest of the article here.

 

Things are winding down at Weston, but the day keeps heating up. ACT government staff said they've been through about 40 12 litre bottles of water. Salvation Army Emergency Services have been on hand providing tea, coffee and biscuits.

The Salvation Army is on hand to help out during today's commemoration.
The Salvation Army is on hand to help out during today's commemoration. 
Megan Doherty

Seven years ago today on Wednesday January 18, 2006 Canberra Times reporter Megan Doherty covered the opening of the bushfire memorial, where today’s ceremony is being held. It was an event attended by many Canberrans whose lives were touched by the fire.

Here’s some of what she wrote:

The sight of eight-year-old Lucy Coupe happily wading through a pond at the ACT Bushfire Memorial yesterday was confirmation this was to be a user-friendly monument.

Artist Tess Horwitz, who helped design the memorial, said she hoped all Canberra residents would make the site, near the intersection of Cotter Road and Eucumbene Drive in Weston, a familiar place.

''Our vision is for this place to be utilised by Canberrans not only for the honouring of memories and private memorial services, but also the happy occasions, the picnics, the walks,'' she said.

As rain fell, people stopped to read residents' inscriptions on a wall made with bricks salvaged from destroyed homes.

Anna Dacre, who moved to Kambah from Chapman after the fires because her neighbourhood had changed so much, wept as she stopped before the wall.

''Close friends of mine lost their cats at the vet clinic and we had a very close call getting out,'' she said.

''It just brings back all those memories and the heartache of losing, not just the surroundings we lived in - because so many neighbours were affected and houses gone and gardens gone - but also all the places we used to go and walk to get comfort were gone as well.'' 

 

The opening of the memorial in 2006.
The opening of the memorial in 2006. Photo: Kate Callas
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