The facts as far as I know them.
As always, there were bushfires burning for weeks in the Namadgi National Park to the south and west of Canberra. On January 18, 2003, the fires reached the suburbs of Canberra. Due to unprecedentedly bad conditions, the fires grew out of control and burned right down the western side of Canberra. With a usual force of 12 tankers and crews to man them, Canberra was in no position to fight fires to approximately 400 homes over half a dozen suburbs.
Fires reached houses in far less time than even experienced firefighters expected. Most people in suburbs backing onto pine forest had no time to grab anything beyond the pets - some didn't even manage that.
Tharwa was spared the worst of the fires because of backburning that was organised by a retired bushfire fighter on Friday, January 17, 2003.
The Mount Stromlo Observatory, containing Australia's best and oldest telescopes and all its records for something like 70 years, was seriously damaged. Most of the telescopes are totally destroyed. The Observatory was also the training centre for astronomers in Australia.
The statistics as far as I know them are:
Pierces Creek: 12
Villages not listed here are Tharwa and Uriarra. Numbers from Stromlo may have been added to that of Duffy.
The total number of houses destroyed is said to be at 531. I don't know the numbers or addresses specifically, and I'll keep updating this node as I find out.
360 people treated for burns, and 3 airlifted to Sydney for serious treatment.
Approximately 2500 people have had to find alternative accomodation or are stuck in evacuation centres.
Said to be reaching AUS$100 million.
Canberra's sewerage plant was damaged by fire but is operational again, although it has a big backlog.
Phones and power were out through nearly all of Canberra for varying lengths of time. Parts of Duffy, Weston, Kambah and Chapman are still without power, due to the burning of one power substation (Lyons) and numerous powerlines being down - in some cases lying across roads or tangled in trees.
A church, a vet's surgery with 40 animals and part of the RSPCA were lost. A school, a campus of the CIT, a police college and ammunition store, a whole BP service station (thank goodness it didn't blow the fuel!) are damaged.
Several suburbs in Belconnen, the north of Canberra, are on high alert today, but should be safe because the fires there have to cover already burnt ground in many places. Also there are fewer fires to concentrate the 1000 or so firefighters on.
As always after an Australian emergency, beautiful stories are being heard of courage and generosity. The best, imho, is that the supermarket in Chapman opened on Sunday with no power or cash registers, and distributed water, batteries and food among residents, asking them to come back when the power came on to pay. He had truckloads of water delivered and distributed them throughout the suburb for free.
Australian, and particularly Canberran noders:
Last night my mother heard from a cousin, a man named Jim Grange. He lives in Jugiong, a town near Gundagai, two hours away from Canberra. He brought his school bus to Canberra with 50 men and 5 tankers. They arrived Saturday, 3pm, just before the crisis hit Weston Creek. They notified the authorities of their presence and went to Queanbeyan to await deployment.
They were not deployed.
They were sent to have dinner, told to find a motel. At 1am they gave up and went home.
I know the emergency services who were on the ground did a great job. But there was nobody in parts of Chapman to save houses, and Alix lost her home. There was nobody in Lyons to save the power substation or three houses next to it. As a result of that Weston still doesn't have power and Vance Russell lost his home. There weren't enough men or tanks, but if Jim and the others were sent to one of those places, they could have saved a home.
I want everyone to know, and I want to know why.
My father heard also from former firefighting colleagues of his father's. Apparently, firebreaks that they cut in the Namadgi National Park in the 50s and 60s used to be used as 4WD trails and were kept clear by constant traffic. These days, to prevent recreational vehicle use of the Park, entrances to the roads have had piles of rock pushed in front of them, and the tracks and breaks are gone. Firemen looking at maps could see roads leading right to the fires for weeks, but couldn't get in to fight them because of this.