Like so many bushfires that have taken homes and endangered lives this summer, the ACT's first threatening blaze since the awfulness of 2003 began simply and unintentionally.
Throughout late December and early January, Canberrans had watched in concern and sadness as the beautiful NSW South Coast, as if set upon by thugs, and was bashed and torched by a succession of awful bushfires.
And for a short time thereafter, considering all the trauma on the coast, it was thought the ACT might dodge the bushfire bullet.
But no; there was much more local nastiness to come.
The first blow came on January 22, just two days after the territory suffered its worst hailstorm in more than a decade.
When a beekeeper's smoking operation went wrong, a fire raced out of the Pialligo Redwood Forest near Canberra Airport, hunted across the Molonglo River, blew out power lines, and scorched to the very edges of Beard and Oaks Estate.
Yet the border-hopping Beard bushfire was just a sample of a much, much larger fire to come.
Five days later, the crew of an army multi-role MRH-90 Taipan helicopter were on a mission deep into the southern mountains to support the ACT's Emergency Services Agency, part of a newly-wrought Australian Defence Forces support package activated after the South Coast burned.
For several days beforehand, soldiers on board the Taipan had been tasked to clear and geotag specific helicopter landing zones within the Namadgi National Park.
Should lightning strike high in the ranges and start a fire, sites such as those the ADF had identified could be the staging points for incoming teams.
On Monday, January 27, about 1pm, there was another site in the Orroral Valley to tag and clear; a routine job but an important one.
The valley floor beneath the helicopter was tinder-dry.
But what crew could not know was that switching on the aircraft's under-fuselage landing light on descent - the pilot's standard operating procedure - would have such dire repercussions for the country they were trying to protect.
Within 12 seconds of landing and the soldiers disembarking, the intense heat from the landing light had ignited the dry grass around it and flames were licking the 16-metre chopper's underbelly.
The soldiers scrambled back on board, the damaged helicopter took off and limped back to Fairbairn.
That isolated army incident, not publicly disclosed at the time, came off the back of an extremely busy mid-summer period for the ACT's Emergency Services Agency.
The Canberra population was already on edge. Bushfire burning in the Braidwood region had repeatedly sent a thick carpet of smoke across the capital and the Clyde Mountain fire had flared, shutting the customary Kings Highway summer escape route to the South Coast.
The normal seasonal rhythm of the nation's capital had been rudely interrupted.
For many, this summer didn't feel the same; it had developed a nasty stain in the sky and a persistent hacking cough.
Meanwhile, to the south of the ACT, a trickle of smoke from the Orroral Valley - a vestige of the helicopter incident - was spotted from atop the Mt Tennent Fire Tower.
An ACT Rural Fire Service firefighting strike team was immediately sent in to investigate and hopefully get on top of it.
After climbing the long, winding road into the Namadgi National Park, by the time the teams had arrived the fire was out of the grassland and into the bushland ridge above.
A strike team headed up a trail and attempted to get ahead of the fire. But within minutes a wind change, and an increase in wind speed, forced them to declare: "no more, that's it . . we've lost it".
As they drove for safety, the forest floor, thick with leaves and other fuel, raged and crackled behind them.
And so began what ACT RFS chief officer Joe Murphy described as a "campaign fire", meaning one of such size and vigour that it could burn on and on until it runs out of places to burn or alternatively, "Mother Nature brings a massive amount of rain and puts it out".
"Since pretty much September we'd been watching New South Wales struggle with their fires," Murphy said.
"We watched their fires jump containment lines and [have] massive flame heights simply because everything is so dry, and then to see the fire in our patch; the warning signs were already there.
"Anything in the Namadgi National Park, surrounded by all that big timber, was going to be a very ordinary firefight from the very beginning simply because the fuel is so dry."
Fighting the fire so deep in rugged bushland also meant a change of tactics. Water-laden 4WD fire trucks, although effective once on site, are slow to reach the remote fireground, lumber up the steep trails and also need an escape route should the situation quickly go south.
The Orroral Valley fire had be attacked from the air.
Captain Dan Montelli, pilot of the DC10 very large air tanker that has been a regular sight over Canberra since the Orroral Valley fire flared, said the territory's concentration of fire in one area had surprised him.
"I come from California and we've had some fires, but . . . [this] was eye-opening," he said.
For those who had faced the 2003 firefront, the waves of helicopters, single engine air tankers and very large tankers shuttling back and forth is in stark contrast to Canberra's worst bushfire day.
Arguably, the speed and ferocity of the 2003 conflagration was very different. It had been driven by high winds, embers flung kilometres ahead, and it had smashed its way into Canberra's southern and western suburban flanks before forces could be properly gathered and levelled against it.
This summer Canberra's Fairbairn airbase has seen more firefighting aircraft activity than any previously, with more than 500 "refills" from its on-site retardant tanks.
"Fighting fires these days is very much an aerial support activity," Murphy said.
"You can't do it [fight bushfires] effectively without aerial support of some nature. But it's still boots on the ground that puts fires out."
Yet despite the RFS's best efforts, the Orroral Valley fire continued to grow. Within two days, it had consumed more than 10,000 hectares, was eight kilometres as the crow flies from the city's southernmost urban fringe, and three days of hot, windy weather ahead raised the agitation levels higher in the suburbs.
And yet as residents even in northern Tuggeranong were packing "go bags" and leaving them by their front doors, the mood of the community in Tharwa, their roads blocked, water choppers shuttling overhead and police on standby for evacuation - should they find anyone willing to go - was one of resilience.
Community meetings were convened and were quite different in nature. The urban people were edgy, the country folk ready.
With his farm at fireground zero right under Mt Tennent, grazier and former Tharwa fire captain Steve Angus was calm and watchful, his cattle close to home and his pumps primed, just 36 hours before he knew the bushfire would scythe through the foothills 150 metres away.
"We've been here before [in 2003]," Angus said, producing old photos of the hellish nightmare taken by members of his fire crew from the balcony of his farmhouse.
"What's different this time is the drought has just baked and scoured everything. It's so dry out in the paddocks only the cow pats would burn."
While the Tharwa community sought information, the mood in the Lanyon meeting attended by about 500 residents from Canberra's most southern suburbs was tense and anxious.
Murphy said there was a deliberate decision made by the ESA executive team not to soften the language around what might happen should Tuggeranong residents be asked to shelter in place as a bushfire landed on Canberra's doorstep again.
"I told them [the residents] that to shelter in place means it's going to get dark and it's going to get noisy, " he said.
"As I told everyone there: 'this is the hard part to listen to, folks; this is what this means'.
"I looked around a few of the faces there and there were some people looking a bit pale. But we can't hide from that; we have to be honest and upfront about it."
The first day of February was when much of Canberra kept looking to the south, Instagraming hundreds of pictures of roiling smoke climbing high into the atmosphere, a marching firefront like a mini Mt Doom or a enhanced CGI effect, and wondering: "what happens next?"
Murphy admits given the heat and unpredictable conditions, that 42-degree Saturday was the most critical in presenting a potential threat to Canberra's southern suburbs.
"Could it [the fire] have got to the suburbs? If it [the day] had been really ordinary, if that southerly had come through with any real strength, who knows where it [the fire] would have got to?
"It would have run really hard across the grassland. It would have run hard and fast."
As the weather calmed, he said it took a meeting with the volunteer Queensland Fire Service strike teams when he could pause for thought about the oddness and dryness of this ACT fire season as seen in a national context.
"There are areas of this country which shouldn't burn but have burned; they [the Queenslanders] saw that when their rainforests erupted into flames last year," he said.
"They were coming here with the full knowledge that this is not a normal fire season. This is a long way from a normal season."
Meanwhile, to the south of Canberra, almost in complete defiance of how much human effort and resources are thrown at it on a daily basis, the menace still grows, sometimes only incrementally, almost to every point of the compass.
"Considering the type of country it [the fire] is in, without a big dump of rain on top of it, this is going to take time to beat," Murphy said.
"It's going to take some skill, some strategies, some effort - all things that we can do - but the one who can really beat it is Mother Nature."