‘Disaster tourism’ flames fury and frustration

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Residents look on at orroral valley bushfire on 31 January. Disaster tourism flooded southern tuggeranong as the fire burned nearby.
Tuggeranong residents look on at the Orroral Valley Fire on 31 January. ‘Disaster tourists’ flocked to the suburban fringes of Tuggeranong throughout the last week of January as the fire burned out of control. Getty.

In the last week of January as the Orroral Valley Fire burned out of control, posing a direct threat to residents of far south ACT, many instances of ‘disaster tourism’ were reported from the suburban fringes of Tuggeranong.

“We’ve had a number of reports from residents in the southern suburbs of the significant amount of traffic coming into the southern suburbs,” said ESA Commissioner Georgia Whelan.

“It would appear that we have a number of people who are coming into the suburbs to check out the fire, to take photographs, to undertake what I’m calling ‘disaster tourism’.”

There were reports of disaster tourists blocking roads and driveways, speeding, and even climbing onto the roofs of local residents’ houses to get photos.

“Taking a great photo for Instagram is not worth your life, it is not worth slowing down the response of my staff and volunteers who are working tirelessly to keep Canberra safe,” Ms Whelan said.

“Please don’t get on the roofs of somebody else’s home so you can get that great shot, it’s not worth it. Please work with me to help keep Canberra safe.”

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A number of the photos uploaded to social media had been ramped up via editing to make the disaster appear more cataclysmic than it did in reality.

Local resident had ‘never seen that much traffic in my life’

Gordon resident Morgan Murray told Canberra Weekly that as the Orroral Valley Fire burned out of control, the main road into Gordon was overtaken as ‘disaster tourism’ ran rife.

“People were being quite dangerous, too, either flying down the street or stopping in the middle of the road to take photos.

“I’ve never seen that much traffic along Jim Pike Avenue onto Point Hut Road. We stood there and looked on in amazement, I’ve never seen that much traffic in my life.”

Ms Murray said the traffic has eased in her suburb since they moved the Point Hut Road closure up to its junction with Gordon’s Jim Pike Avenue.

Despite that, Ms Murray said she knew a few of her neighbours had left the suburb, concerned for their own safety had the Orroral Valley Fire situation escalated.

“Speaking to our neighbour, I know two of them had evacuated because they were concerned they would get stuck, and everyone else thought these people were idiots.

“There’s only two roads out of Banks and Conder, so there was a concern that if it did escalate there would be a lot of traffic, and the roads out would be clogged.”