"Like a volcano." In 2003, a bushfire ravaged Canberra. Now they're facing a similar threat.

Feature image: Twitter/tamzy888.

On January 18, 2003, Canberra experienced its worst natural disaster.

A bushfire roared through the city’s south-west destroying nearly 500 homes and killing four people.

It was caused by a series of dry lightning storms, but largely took Canberrans by surprise as it quickly turned into a firestorm that created its own weather system and barrelled towards homes.

Now, the ACT is in flames again almost to the day 17 years on.

It’s being called the worst fire threat the area has seen since the 2003 disaster, with the monstrous fire quadrupling in size in a single day.

This is what it looks like. Post continues after video.

Video by The Weather Channel

It feels like the bushfires will never end.

We’re just about to get to the end of five long months of Australian bushfires, with at least two months left of official bushfire season.

Practically every state and territory has been hit, with 36 people dead and more than 1.25 billion animals lost.

Right now, it’s Canberra’s turn.

It’s believed the current blaze was started by the heat from a defence force helicopter’s light in the Namadgi National Park on January 28.

It spread rapidly, quadrupling in size in a single day, creating its own weather system and sending spot fires five kilometres ahead of itself as it burned erratically, bearing down on the small village of Tharwa where residents were told on Tuesday it was too late to leave.

The flames roared over the mountains, and were an ominous and scary sight to behold across Canberra city.


The somewhat eerie and almost spectacular view however, encouraged a lot of “disaster tourism” as locals rushed to take pictures of the plumes – driving down affected streets and climbing onto roofs to take the perfect shot.

It left firefighters fuming.

“We know the fire marks for some insta-worthy content. Stopping on the side of the road creates and unnecessary risk to public safety.

“Please do not clog our roads to take your own pictures. Use these,” tweeted ACT ESA.

Simone Penkethman and her two children survived the 2003 fires which tore through their home destroying everything inside. 

As she explained to Mamamia’s news podcast The Quicky, fire such as the one currently burning in Canberra is anything but picturesque. In fact, it’s the things she witnessed not the things she lost that hurt the most.

“I think what I need to stress here is for my family the most devastating thing was seeing the firestorm itself and seeing the way the fire was behaving. It was like a monster or a dragon. Like nothing you could possibly imagine.


“Some of the people who were most affected by those fires, didn’t necessarily lose their homes, some of the people who stayed to protect their homes had the worst time of it because of what they’d seen,” she explained.

As Sky reporter Thomas O’Brien explained, residents are still recovering from the trauma like that experienced by Simone, with these current fires only reigniting those flashbacks.

While the Canberra bushfire is at the time of writing at advice level, the threat is far from over with worsening conditions expected to return today with 37 degrees predicted. Tomorrow and over the weekend it’s going to be in the 40s.

The 2003 bushfires burnt through 160,000 hectares which equated to almost 70 per cent of the ACT’s pasture, forests and nature parks, including the Namadgi National Park which is once again up in flames this time around.

As Brett McNamara, the manager of ACT Parks and Conservation told The Quicky just a few weeks ago, they’ve been preparing for another potential bushfire for 16 years.

“We’ve been building containment lines, and improving access,” he explained.

But bushfires are often erratic, and no matter how much preparation, they’re hard to predict.

The current blaze has already burnt through 10,000 hectares, within two days.

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