On 18 January, two fire fronts combined to create a 25 km fire front and wind gusts of up to 65 km per hour propelled the fire towards Canberra. The Chief Minister declared a state of emergency at 2.45 pm and the firestorm hit the outer streets of Duffy at approximately 3 pm, and soon reached the suburbs of Rivett, Chapman, Kambah, Higgins, Hawker and Cook.
Four people were killed by the fires, more than 435 people were injured and there were 5000 evacuations. Approximately 160,000 hectares were burnt which equated to almost 70 per cent of the ACT's pasture, forests and nature parks including Namadgi National Park, Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve and all government pine forest west of the Murrumbidgee River Stromlo pine plantation. There were approximately 488 houses destroyed and many more were damaged.
The Chief Minister and Cabinet Inquiry into the Operational Response to the January 2003 bushfires made 61 recommendations.
The Insurance Council of Australia estimated the 2003 damage at $350 million, with the 2011 estimated normalised cost of $660 million.