Australia’sParliament House in Canberra is Obscured by Smoke from Bushfires 

ReutersNews Service, published by Planet Ark, 21 January 2003


An inferno this weekend in Canberra, the worst fires the capital city has seen with around 400 homes incinerated in under 24 hours and two householders killed, are as natural to the bush as are kangaroos and emus, or sun and rain.

In the weeks before last Christmas, fires raged around the island continent’s biggest city, Sydney, and firefighters were struggling on the weekend to contain fresh outbreaks.

 Urban sprawl has blurred the divide between the outback and the cities, and while fires the size of England rage almost unnoticed in the remote centre of Australia, in populated areas the flames have brought death and destruction.

The following are some of the worst bushfires Australia has suffered:

Black Christmas 2001

Fires ringed Sydney for nearly three weeks, burning through 770,000 hectares (1.9 million acres) and destroying 109 homes. The rural fire service says the efforts of its volunteers saved 20,000 homes.

January 1994 bushfires

Firefighters fought fires around Sydney for 13 straight days but failed to save almost 300 properties. Four people, including two firefighters, died.

 The bushfires tore through the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park in northern Sydney, reaching within a few kilometres (miles) of the harbour, and charred 800,000 hectares (two million acres).

Ash Wednesday 1983

Temperatures exceeding 43 degrees Celsius (109 Fahrenheit) and winds of 100 km (60 miles) per hour fanned several ferocious fires that raged through the Adelaide Hills and much of southeast South Australia on February 16, razing 400 buildings. The fires burned out 160,000 hectares (395,000 acres).

More fires swept through the neighbouring state of Victoria, wiping out several seaside towns and destroying more than 2,000 homes. More than 180,000 hectares (445,000 acres) were burned.

In all, 76 people, including 15 firefighters, died that day in both states. At McMahons Creek, near Melbourne, a group of 83 people managed to survive by spending 24 hours in a floodwater tunnel a metre (three feet) high.

Summer of 1974/75

Lush growth of grasses and scrub after two years of exceptionally heavy rain provided plenty of fuel for enormous fires in central Australia. Fires burned over 117 million hectares (289 million acres) – about the size of South Africa or around 15 percent of Australia’s total land area.

Black Tuesday 1967

More than 100 fires burning in the environs of Hobart, the capital of the island state of Tasmania, suddenly converged on February 7 and swept through the suburban fringes of the city. The fires burned 264,000 hectares (652,000 acres), killed 61 people and destroyed more than 1,700 homes.

 Black Friday 1939

Fires swept through outback Victoria, killing 71 people, mainly in the timber towns of the state’s forests. Around 1,300 homes were burned to the ground on January 13. The fires consumed 1.4 million hectares (3.5 million acres) and ash is said to have fallen as far away as New Zealand.



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