My friend Ian has posted about the 2003 Canberra bushfires from his perspective: I'd urge any reader who hasn't already done so to read that post.
The images in this post were taken by others at the time - I believe mainly about 4pm on 18 January 2003. How, and where, I got them is the main part of my story. Here is a suburban service station during the fires.
At that time we were living in Tanzania and being a weekend were, as was often the case, out in the Mikumi National Park some 300 road kms West of Dar es Salaam. We returned to our accommodation - the Genesis Hotel in Mikumi village. As usual one chats with other folk especially the wazungu to find out what they've seen, and a usual question is "Where are you from?". When we said "Canberra" someone said "There are bushfires there!" my response was "Its January. There are always bushfires in January."
Then the CNN news came on with the lead item having images like this.
When we returned to Canberra about 9 months later the ranges were still black and bare. Much of the city water supply was unusable as rain had washed roasted topsoil, ash and debris into the dams from which a good proportion of the water was obtained. We spoke with our neighbours about their experiences. They had come under ember attack, even though they were 10km from the nearest fire front.
Ian's post describes the aftermath in the Ranges better than I can.
Most - I am tempted to say all (see Ian's comment below for an update)- of the houses that were burnt have been rebuilt (or, more typically, replaced) and life goes on. The Government has introduced 'rules' about having firebreaks between housing and nature reserves which in most cases seem to involve razing areas of the reserves rather than limiting the scope of the new McMansion proto-slums.
There is however still stupidity evident. Just before I started to compose this I was out hanging up the washing and heard a series of bangs - deep "keerrump" type noises, not the sound of a rifle or shotgun shooting pests - coming from a general North Westerly direction. Worryingly, that is the direction of the Majura military firing range which has a whole lot of tinder dry woodland. The other suspect in that direction would be blasting for roadworks in the same general direction. I rang the local RFS Office to draw this to their attention. They were going to remind those potentially concerned that such activities are not legal on days of total fire ban (which applies in the ACT as well as the Southern Ranges of NSW).
Anyone that lets off explosives on a day like this - at 9:45 already 33 degrees with a gusty NW wind blowing - IMHO should themselves be subject to explosions once the danger has passed.
To finish on a lighter note. I mentioned earlier that we were staying at the Genesis pub. The comments in the linked tripadviser listing above seem about right. We stayed there several times as it was cheap and I liked the buffalo goulash. One of my outstanding memories of the place was going out for a run at 6am one morning and finding a horde of wananichi (ie locals) running down the street. It was unusual for them to start hitting the konyagi this early in the day so I went back to see what was occurring.