Canberra fires five years on

Canberra fires five years on

For those new readers we have a tradition that on the 18th of January every year I take some photos of my garden. This was first started a year to the day after the Canberra Firestorm. We were very lucky as we just lost our garden in the fires whereas others in our street lost their homes. We did not evacuate but stayed to fight the fires.The experience put many things in perspective for me I realise how lives can be changed radically simply because of chance.For readers who don’t know the story there was no warning on the day of the fires. We were going about daily lives in the morning, washing grocery shopping etc and fighting one of Australias worst fires in the afternoon. The emergency services were over run and people simply did not see any help at all. The fire became a fire storm with winds that cut through everything.

There are some eyewitness accounts of that day to be found here.Nearly 500 homes were lost and over 2500 gardens were burnt. Ours of course was one of them so every year we remember how lucky we were with taking a photograph and usually celebrating/remembering with our neighbours. For those who are interested I have some photos taken at the time housed on my site here and Jerry has published his view of the same event too.So here are the shots.

First our garden just after the fire stripped back to bare earth

Today the same view – with much less smoke in the air as well!

The front path area …

Today the same view. Of course we have been in drought with water restrictions ever since the fires so establishing a garden from bare earth has turned me into a bucket lady as we recycle gray water from the washing machine to water the garden.

Some things we have lost along the way but generally I feel happy with the progress.

Probably one of the incidents that scared me most was that our gas meter exploded off the wall during the fire as usually that meant the house was gone with in minutes.

Well thats it for today a bit of personal history and I thought I would let people see the small quilt I made in response to the fires. I titled it “Safe as Houses” you can find the full story of why it is designed as it is here. If you scroll down there are links to close up details of the work.



  1. I felt the need to comment, though I don’t know really what one ought to say in such times. Your words are poignant, and very moving. Surviving tragedy, of whatever sort, brings out the worst and best in people. The sort of person you seem, makes me believe that as horrible as the Canberra fires were, they have brought out the best in you. I may be an ocean away, but drought and wildfire is part of life here as well (I’m in Montana, in the US). It is so strange to me to be reading about summertime and wildfire, and look out my window to a snowy landscape in the grip of a cold storm moving through.

    Wishing you and your family all the best!

    Deb L
  2. Hi Sharon, I just wanted to drop a note to let you know that I have been working on my TIF challenge. Pop by and have a read and then you will understand why your latest blog posting made me burst into tears (much needed tears). My memory about that fire is the terrible fear I felt about my father’s safety and health as he was living in Aranda and very frail by then. I flew straight over to see him because I had an inexplicable dread that it might just be the last time I could see him. Apologies in advance for the very long blog post, but I owe you a debt of gratitude my dear, as it was so cathartic to let it all out and to see the beauty of your garden regenerating has a profundity not lost to me.

  3. Sharon, I remember coming down to Canberra, as a volunteer with the NSW Rural Fire Service, to assist with the firefighting and just being totally overwhelmed by what I saw. I live in the Blue Mountains (Katoomba) and have fought fires there but nothing prepared me for this. It is good to see that everything is growing back and returning to relative normality.

    We ended up doing work around Michelago and out towards Wee Jasper, to see the fire just race across dry grass paddocks in the way it did is something I never want to see again, just too scary and incredibly fast.

  4. I grew up in Southern California and many of my family are still there. That means fires! This past fall, several of them had to evacuate but fortunately none lost their home which isn’t how my uncle fared a few years ago. Another fire came close to my daughter’s house a little farther north than the rest of my family but her family stayed safe. My nephew ended up (he’s a fireman) fighting a fire that was threatening his own neighborhood and house. And if I get a chance I’ll move right back there with them.

    Your gardens are very pretty. I also understand being a bucket lady as we live in a desert area of Arizona where many people haul all their water from a source in town. Thankfully, for my back, we finally got a well which while it won’t allow grass, does let us water some trees for shade and we get to use a hose!

    I hope you never experience another fire so close to you again. They are terrifying.

  5. Sharon, the garden is looking beautiful and green. I can’t believe the fires were 5 years ago! I wonder if we were not so industrious would time slow down a bit? I don’t think I’m going to find out am I? And you certainly are not going to.

  6. Hi Sharon – about your question – did anything regrow – only the weeds! The balance was so upset we did not have snails for about 18 months and even spiders and the like were rare for a little while which meant less birds etc
    Things re more or less in balance again which feels good

    Rene – yes I agree you are never the same after something like this and I am quite honest when I say how I value what I have and my life every single day – not a day would go by without this philosophy touching my mind

  7. Sharon, I remember finding your blog, and just going through the pages.When I saw the Safe Quilt and read the story, I cried. We had just been through Katrina. I emailed you that day and told you I loved your site, but did understand how it is to go through such a time. You are never the dame. That was in 2005. So I have joined you each day since then for a cuppa and chat. Thank you for what you do. Your garden really is lush and green. In 5 years the trees must have started to reach high in the sky. Ours are growing after all the mess we had. I just want to say, “Happy Life” to Canberra!

  8. Sharon, thanks for reminding us that Nature cannot be tamed. It must have been very frightening standing fighting those fires. We had relatives who were still standing while all the neighbours’ homes burned, no logic at all. I was on the Central Coast many years ago when the kids were little when fires were burning all around us. We were safe enough, but burning leaves were raining down into the yard. The TV was showing graphic footage and we had to jolly the kids up with games to stop them worrying. Mind you, when my SIL saw her neighbours on the roof filling gutters with water, she did get a little nervous too, and the sky was just dreadful. I would love to do a “tree change” move one day, but I’d be so nervous about fires that I’d have to choose carefully where to go. But then, no-one could have predicted the Canberra fires would be so bad, could they?
    Thanks for sharing,
    Christine in overcast and cool Sydney.

  9. Sharon

    I am not sure what programme it was but it was talking about the Canberra fires and showing footage from that day – I had read and seen your account of the fire which to me was horrific enough and to see these people madly fighting a seeming losing battle just made me realise – as you have said – that life changes moment to moment and that just when you think that life is ordinary something jolts you out of that complacency…

    Your garden looks so lush and green – you and Jerry must marvel at its comeback when in your mind’s eye you can ‘see’ from where it has come from…

    Did any of the plants regrow or did you have to replace everything and what about the soil – what had to be done to bring it back…

    My boss’s parents also live in Canberra and have talked about that day too…

    Friends of my mothers had a similar experience with the Melbourne fires many years ago – they were told the danger had passed and so went to bed – sometime in the early hours they were woken up by banging on their door and were told to get out immediately – the fire had swung back and was heading back their way… They were left with what they had on – their night clothes – a small price for what might have been… Congratulations in keeping the memory alive because sometimes we need the constant reminder to keep us vigilent…

    Sharon (Melbourne)

  10. I remember the fires well (from a distance)it doesnt seem 5 years ago. Your garden is looking lovely -the colours remind me of the tif challenge…did you go no further than your front step for inspiration??
    great quilt too.


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