As much as we wistfully long for the freedom we enjoyed pre-COVID, it’s easy to forget that back in January, Canberra had some of the worst air quality in the world, as our surrounds suffered from horrific bushfires nearby that tenveloped the Territory in smoke haze, and, of course, there was the hail.
Canberra Weekly’s top stories of January focus on our wild weather, starting with the fire and smoke before ‘pivoting’ to the devastating 20 January hailstorm.
NSW South Coast suffers through bushfire crisis
The NSW South Coast was devastated by the bushfire crisis over summer 2019-20.
By 10 January in NSW, over 1,500 homes had been destroyed and the death toll from the bushfires was at 20 people, eight of whom have died on the South Coast between 30 December and 10 January.
On Monday 6 January, residents from Eden in the south to Batemans Bay in the north could return home after being evacuated on 2 January.
At the time, Batemans Bay resident Dene Lewthwaite said everything on the coast was “pretty raw”.
“I’m in Surf Beach … It got evacuated 9 o’clock New Year’s Eve once we had fire coming over the hill toward our place.
“Since then, we’ve had no power, and the phones have been on and off over the last week and we had to evacuate Saturday with the second wave of fire.”
Canberra gasps for breath as bushfires burn
A State of Alert was declared for the ACT on Thursday 2 January as bushfires surrounded the Canberra region.
The ACT Government acknowledged that many Canberrans were anxious about their health due to exposure to smoke.
The ACT Government supplied face masks to the Early Morning Centre for individuals sleeping rough. Face masks were also offered through Housing ACT to tenants who need them.
They have also accepted a supply of P2 face masks from the Commonwealth Government; the supply of 100,000 masks was delivered to pharmacies.
Poor air quality forces cancellations
A number of sporting events scheduled for the ACT in late December and early January were forced to postpone, cancel or relocate due to the poor air quality across the region from bushfire smoke.
Umpires at the Big Bash League game at Manuka Oval on 21 December deemed conditions too hazardous for the players and spectators to continue, cancelling the Adelaide Strikers versus Sydney Thunder match during the second innings before a result could be determined.
On Friday 3 January, Tennis ACT announced the decision to relocate the Apis Canberra International, scheduled for 6-12 January, to Bendigo, Victoria.
The Canberra Cavalry’s round seven Australian Baseball League (ABL) series against Adelaide scheduled for 2-5 January was cancelled, again due to poor air quality.
The WNBL cancelled the Round 12 match between the UC Capitals and Perth Lynx, due to be played on Sunday 5 January at the AIS Arena in Canberra.
Wild weather causes carnage
Severe storm activity hit the ACT on Monday 20 January with hail as big as golf balls causing extensive damage to cars, windows, wildlife and buildings including the iconic Shine Dome.
The severe storm resulted in a record number of calls to the ACT Emergency Services Agency with 1,911 calls for assistance, up on the previous record of 998 calls from a windstorm back on 13 January 2017.
Good news – New Breakfast host brings a scientific mind to the airwaves
Now a local institution who keeps many Canberrans in the loop, in January we welcomed ABC Radio Canberra’s Breakfast host Lish Fejer to the air.
Fejer first joined the ABC Radio Canberra team in 2010. Having done the Sunday Brunch shift for the previous six years, she brings experience and lots of connections to the role.
Just prior to starting her Breakfast gig, Fejer told Canberra Weekly she was keen to tell the “hyper-local” stories, “the little things that are happening in the small, proud, pockets of Canberra”.
“Canberra is such a wonderful community place. There’s so much going on here that we don’t know about, so we really rely on those listeners to tell us what’s important to them,” she said.