Canberra Bushfire 2003

Quick Statistics

4 Fatalities
435 Injured
$350 Million Insurance Costs
488 Homes Destroyed
On 18 January 2003, a combination of extreme weather conditions (high temperatures of above 37 ºC, low humidity, lightning strikes and strong gusty winds) caused multiple bushfires to break out in the Kosciuszko and Namadgi National parks surrounding Canberra.

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.


Information Sources

ABC Catalyst, Canberra firestorm, 27 February 2003, website viewed 10 May 2012
ACT Chief Minister and Cabinet, Inquiry into the operational response to the January 2003 bushfires, 1 August 2003, pp iii, 15-16, 44-47, website viewed 10 May 2012
ACT Coroner's Court, Inquests and inquiry into the four deaths and four fires between 8 and 18 January 2003, vol.1, December 2006, p 3, website viewed 10 May 2012
ACT Government Bushfire Recovery Taskforce, The report of the bushfire recovery taskforce - Australian Capital Territory October 2003, 2003, pp ix, website viewed 10 May 2012
Aon Re Australia Limited, The January 2003 Canberra Bushfires, 30 January 2003, website viewed 10 May 2012
Bureau of Meteorology, Significant weather January 2003, website viewed 10 May 2012
Insurance Council of Australia, Historical disaster statistics, March 2012, website viewed 23 May 2012
Pearson Australia, Australian natural hazards case study – The Canberra bushfires 2003, website viewed 10 May 2012