Army veteran and former opposition leader Jeremy Hanson has recounted the terror of being trapped in Batemans Bay as bushfires roared towards the coastal town on New Year's Eve, saying the scene was similar to a war zone.
Mr Hanson gave the firsthand account during a speech to the ACT Legislative Assembly on Tuesday morning, which was dedicated to reflections on the summer of extraordinary weather events in Canberra and the surrounding region.
The shadow attorney-general was holidaying with family and friends near Batemans Bay on December 31, when he received an early morning text message ordering him to evacuate. The group fled to the Hanging Rock evacuation centre, where they joined hundreds of locals and visitors seeking shelter from the firefront.
"Already in the morning, it was like an oven. Wind was blowing hard, temperatures were in the early 40s and it was a very hostile place to be," Mr Hanson told the Assembly.
Around 11.30am, Mr Hanson recalled another fire threat emerging about 300 metres from the evacuation centre.
"We had fires coming toward us from one side and fires from the other side. In the air, there were fixed-wing aircraft, there were fire trucks, ambulances, police vehicles - all with their sirens on."
"About midday the fire rolled in and day turned to night. The whole place went black, it was almost impossible to breathe.
"I've spent some time fighting fires west of Sydney in 1997 - I commanded a military contingent there - and I spent time in conflict zones, including in Iraq. And can I say this was not dissimilar. The sense of terror, of dislocation was not dissimilar."
Amid the fear and confusion, Mr Hanson remembered numerous displays of selflessness, solidarity and community spirit. He recalled how members of the Greek community traveled to the centre late on New Year's Eve and cooked up a feast for evacuees.
"I don't know how much they had planned for their dinners, but there was a lot of souvlaki and greek salad," he said.
"We went from stale bread to delicious souvlaki. It was not just the physical sustenance, but the morale boost that it gave."
In other speeches delivered on Tuesday morning, Chief Minister Andrew Barr praised Canberrans for their handling of the summer's events, saying the "city had displayed tremendous solidarity and compassion in this most difficult time in our region's history".
"It has been a long summer and, unbelievably, it's only mid-February," Mr Barr said.
Highlighting the destruction caused by the Orroral Valley fire in Namadgi National Park, Mr Barr said the ecological recovery could take "years, if not decades".
He drew a direct link between climate change and the national bushfire crisis, while also issuing a clarion call to politicians and the community to do more to mitigate the risks of future horror summers.
"As difficult as it is to contemplate, what we have faced this summer will inevitably become more frequent over coming years and decades, significantly shaping our lives and this city," he said.
"We must each do what we can."
Mr Barr praised the territory's emergency services agency and rural fire crews, saying "we cannot thank them enough for their effort in keeping our city and territory safe".
Opposition leader Alistair Coe paid tribute to the firefighters who had died in bushfires this summer, including the three Americans who died when their plane crashed near Numeralla on January 24.
Mr Coe paid tribute to volunteers, businesses and migrant community groups who stepped up to support those in need. He said the summer's event had brought out the "best in Canberra, and the best in Canberrans."
"I am proud of this city," he said. "I am proud to be Canberran."
Opposition emergency services spokeswoman Giulia Jones opened her speech by referencing Dorothea McKellar's famous poem, My Country.
"In ... her famous poem, she [McKellar] describes Australia as a land of drought and flooding rain, her beauty and her terror, the wide brown land for me," she said.
"This summer, we have experienced the mighty force of nature, and the mighty force of our country's terror."