Emergency Services Agency Commissioner Georgeina Whelan described it as "Summergeddon".
The start of 2020 brought bushfire smoke, a freak hailstorm and two fire emergencies; the second scorching through more than a third of the territory's land mass.
The very different crises which emerged soon after, the twin health and economic emergencies triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, have proven so all-consuming that the black summer seems far more distant than it should.
But the events of January and early February have been thrust back into the public spotlight this week amid explosive revelations about the Emergency Services Agency's handling of the ACT's worst fire season since 2003.
A leaked internal review of the summer season detailed claims that a culture of "blame and shame" existed inside agency headquarters, causing decision-making paralysis at all but the most senior levels of command. It revealed serious concerns about the lack of planning for aerial firefighting operations, the mismanagement of resources and the absence of a policy to manage weary staff.
Questions were raised about Defence's role as the crisis unfolded in January. The review heard claims that public messaging at the height of the emergency overstated the severity of the situation, causing the public to panic.
The agency and the ACT government have backed the bushfire response, with Chief Minister Andrew Barr pointing to the fact no lives or homes were lost in the territory as the measure of its overwhelming success.
However, neither the politicians nor public servants are commenting on the specific allegations made in the review, which is yet to be finalised.
As such, questions remained unanswered about what really transpired during the response to Canberra's summer emergencies.
'Not just disgruntled volunteers'
Concerns about the handling of the fire season were first aired publicly in mid February.
With the Orroral Valley still burning through Namadgi National Park, disgruntled volunteer firefighters spoke out about being treated as "second-class citizens" at the height of the emergency response.
They complained about the preferential treatment of Parks and Conservation Service staff, the management of shifts and the age and safety of their vehicles.
Brigade captains reacted furiously to a ban on the use of lights and sirens while driving to emergencies, arguing it was "impracticable, unworkable and failed to meet community expectations".
Volunteers also expressed frustration at being barred from crossing the border to help fight fires in NSW.
Commissioner Georgeina Whelan's refusal to release crews to fight the Clear Range fire near Bredbo triggered one the flashpoints in the fracturing of the relationship between volunteers and the agency; a heated meeting at Rivers RFS which ended after the commissioner angrily stormed out of the Cotter Road fire shed.
After that incident, Commissioner Whelan and the now-retired Rural Fire Service chief officer Joe Murphy acknowledged the soured relationship with sections of the volunteer membership. But Murphy, in particular, was adamant it was only a small, vocal minority of volunteers who were discontented.
Many of the frustrations and allegations the volunteers expressed over summer were repeated in feedback to the agency's "after action review". The new details, including that volunteers considered walking off the Orroral Valley fireground in disgust at what they perceived as mistreatment, served to reaffirm an entrenched narrative.
What was truly revealing about the leaked report was that it showed volunteers were not alone in harbouring concerns about the handling of the summer crisis.
The most serious allegations aired in the review were made not by cranky volunteers, but by paid professionals working inside ACT Rural Fire Service headquarters. It is a small team, too - just 11 employees, plus a chief officer, according to the latest annual report figures.
Their "observations", as they were described in the internal review, painted a disturbing image of the culture inside the agency during the emergency.
Staff described feeling afraid to speak up for fear of being berated in front of their peers. No one stood up to the "unacceptable behaviour" of Commissioner Whelan because they worried they might lose their jobs, the review was told.
Commissioner Whelan hasn't responded publicly to the allegations made in the review. But the ex-military officer has been upfront in the past about her forthright leadership style.
In an exclusive interview with The Canberra Times earlier this year, she admitted to "driving her team crazy" with the level of preparedness she demanded.
She said her colleagues were just that - colleagues, not friends. Conversations were frank and direct. Staff were "challenged".
Aside from alleged cultural problems inside agency headquarters, Rural Fire Service staff also raised concerns in the review about decision-making during the crisis, particularly as it related to aerial firefighting.
People were expected to perform roles despite having no experience in aerial firefighting, they said. They claimed there was almost no planning for aerial operations, despite it being the primary tactic in the firefight.
Most alarmingly, they said planes took risks to fly at "dangerously low heights" because it would make for a "good news story".
The Rural Fire Service staff who provided feedback to the review did make some positive observations, praising the land management work as well as their own team for taking on more responsibility amid the emergency.
But those slivers of positivity were few and far between.
Commissioner Whelan earlier this year acknowledged the response to the summer emergencies was not perfect. But it was nevertheless an overwhelming success.
"We didn't lose critical infrastructure, we did not lose the urban/rural interface, we did not lose life, we had very minor injuries," she said at the time.
"There were a lot of firsts this season. By no means were we perfect, but we did pretty good for the number of concurrent firsts that we had over a seven-week period."
'Damaging the reputation of the service'
Amid the media storm, the ACT government is standing firm in its support for the agency.
Mr Barr pivoted to warmly praising the agency, in particular Commissioner Whelan, whenever he was asked this week about the claims made in the review.
He was, it must be noted, echoing a sentiment felt by many Canberrans over summer. Commissioner Whelan's profile and popularity soared in tandem with January's threats. The ACT's first female commissioner was seen as a calm and reassuring figure as the unprecedented chain of events unfolded.
But four days on since The Canberra Times broke the story, neither Mr Barr, the minister in charge of the agency or the agency itself have commented publicly on the specific allegations. Canberrans are none the wiser as to whether those in charge think the claims are concerning or baseless, or somewhere in between.
The official government position is that it would be inappropriate to comment while the review is ongoing.
The agency has, however, maintained that it always endeavored to work in a "safe, legally compliant and financially responsible" way and welcomed chances to "reflect and improve".
It has also sought to clarify the context in which the explosive allegations were made. The feedback was provided in open feedback sessions which relied on the honesty of their participants.
The agency has held 38 workshops with those involved in the response. The Canberra Times only obtained feedback from ACT Rural Service staff and volunteers. It's not known what members of the SES, the Parks and Conservation Service or ACT Fire and Rescue made of the handling of the crisis.
- Leaked bushfire review details explosive claims about ESA commissioner and handling of fire crisis
- 'All time low': Volunteers call for change amid fallout to fire review
- Bushfire review: Public messaging 'overstated' during bushfire emergency
- Responding to 'Summergeddon': ESA commissioner Georgeina Whelan on fire threats and volunteer fury
The leaked review, which reads as a series of dot points, does not disclose the names or the number of respondents. As such, it's difficult to glean how representative the feedback is of the views of the wider staff and volunteer ranks.
But nobody is disputing that there are tensions.
Acting ACT Rural Fire Service chief officer Rohan Scott condemned the leaking of the internal review in an open letter to members earlier this week. His anger was focused on a small number of unnamed individuals, who he accused of seeking to damage the reputation of service.
He warned bad behaviour would no longer be tolerated.
The feedback provided to the "after action review" has now been handed to a consultant for independent assessment. New Emergency Service Agency deputy commissioner Ray Johnson, whose role was created in the wake of the summer fire season, has been tasked with evaluating the whole-of-government response.
An ACT Legislative Assembly inquiry has been launched into Canberra's bushfire season, while the royal commission into Australia's black summer is well under way.
The inquiries present opportunities to probe the serious accusations revealed this week.
There is no time to waste.
The break between Australia's ever-worsening fire seasons has never been shorter.