On the 18th of January 2003 an out of control bushfire that had been burning for a week hit the outer suburbs of my hometown, Canberra, Australia's capital city. Ten hours after it reached the suburb of Duffy, four people had died and 500 homes were lost or severely damaged. The smoke and red haze was visible over the entire city.
I lived on the other side of town, the high temperatures that had lasted all week drove me to seek solace in a late Saturday afternoon nap with all the curtains drawn. When I woke up and opened them the sky was a livid red and charred leaves littered the ground.
This week my editor Amanda at HerCanberra has run a series on our collected memories of the day. Mine is of how proud I am of my big sister Beth…
When the fires hit Canberra in 2003, I was living in the Inner North, in the days immediately after 18th January we were all on high alert to evacuate, but thankfully were spared the devastation others suffered.
What I remember most is my big sister calling me that night. She worked at Centrelink and told me she was going in on Sunday as part of the emergency response to make sure those who lost their homes and possessions had financial support to get them over the first weeks. She asked me to look after her six year old son and three year old daughter. I’ve always loved spending time with the kids so it was no hardship, I packed my own evacuation kit—photo albums, insurance papers and a few changes of clothes—and closed my door.
I remember that it was so very hot outside and the skies full of smoke. I kept the little kids inside, the air wasn’t good to breathe and we spent the day jumping in and out of the shower in our swimmers. I am glad to say that they just thought it was silly aunt Hez playing a game with them.
To this day I feel privileged my wonderful sister entrusted her precious children to me and I am so proud of how she and so many others responded and helped out our fellow Canberrans.
For the last few weeks, 10 years on, temperatures have been high again. What surprised me most was how jittery I felt as the thermometer hit 37 and 39 degrees and hot winds picked up speed. I took the precaution of packing a change of clothes and my evacuation kit.
I found that the things in it were almost identical to the ones I packed 10 years ago: insurance papers, the same photo albums plus a few additional ones and a thumb drive, and my father’s watch. The things that I wanted to preserve 10 years ago are still the most precious things in my life.