Fire on the Limestone Plains/Bush Fires/The January 2003 Bush Fires

The January 2003 Bush Fires


"A persistent El Nino event throughout 2002 and into 2003 led to very much below-average rainfall and abnormally high temperatures across large parts of eastern Australia, including areas in and around the ACT. This followed on from the preceding dry period in 2001. A very critical period leading up to the January 2003 fire event was the period between October and December. The rainfall for these three months totalled 40.2 mm compared to a median total of 150.4 mm and was the third lowest total on record (records from 1939)." [1][2]

"COMCEN, Coree Tower, white."[3]

On the 8th January 2003 a Total Fire Ban was in place in the A.C.T. and surrounding N.S.W., when a dry storm passed over the A.C.T. through to Victoria in the afternoon, leading to a series of lightning strikes in the Brindabella Ranges. In the ACT the first smoke was recorded from Mt Coree fire tower; over the next hour numerous smoke sightings were reported. Three fires were in the A.C.T. at Mount Gingera, Stockyard Spur and north west of Bendora Dam (all in Namadgi National Park). Other fires were reported in N.S.W. at McIntyres Hut, Yarrangobilly, Broken Cart and Mt Morgan.[4][5]

18 January 2003 - The Weather


"The strongest average wind speed of a little over 50 km/h was recorded shortly after 3.20 pm and the strongest gust of 78km/h was also recorded at approximately this time. The winds began to abate at approximately 5.30 pm with the average reaching a minimum near 13 km/h at 7.10 pm. A south-easterly wind shift developed shortly after this time and again the wind briefly increased reaching 35km/h with gusts to 50 km/h on the change before easing later in the evening.

The temperature rose quickly during the morning, briefly reaching a maximum of 37.4C at 12.42 pm. At 2.20 pm, the temperature began to slowly fall to 33.6C at 7.00 pm before falling more rapidly in response to the south-easterly wind shift.

The Relative Humidity (R.H.) dropped to 13% by 12.40 pm where it remained until 2.00 pm when it then dropped to 8%. This value of 8% was maintained from 2.50 pm until 4.30 pm when another drop to a minimum near 4% occurred.

The McArthur_Forest_Fire_Danger_Index (FFDI)[6] was in the defined ‘Extreme’ range (>=50) from just prior to 1.00 pm until just prior to 7.00 pm. The peak in fire danger occurred between approximately 2.50 pm and 6.00 pm. At around 15.00 the FFDI reached 105."[2]

The fires and the associated firestorm resulted in the following:

  • the death of four residents
  • the loss of 87 rural houses and 414 urban houses
  • 160,000 hectares burnt in the ACT—almost 70 per cent of the Territory and a further 100,000 hectares burnt in NSW.

A.C.T. Areas burnt:

  • Plantation forests - 16,770 Ha:
  • Rural Leases - 31,000 Ha;
  • Nature Reserves - 109,400 Ha


  1. Webb, R., C. J. Davis, and S. Lellyett. "Meteorological aspects of the ACT bushfires of January 2003." Proceedings of Bushfire. 2004.
  2. a b Meteorological aspects of the ACT bushfires of January 2003.
  3. First smoke sighting on the 8th January 2003 at 15.25pm (ACT RFS VHF Ch 1 Radio logs)
  4. A.C.T. Volunteer Bushfire Brigade Associations (2003), What you wouldn't believe ... : the January 2003 bushfires in the ACT as seen by bushfire and emergency service personnel, ACT Volunteer Brigades Association