Anxious residents wait for news as fire officers try to access the situation on Poinciana Road Koongal where at least one house is likely to have burned down. CHRIS ISON CI17/1009/7
Anxious residents wait for news as fire officers try to access the situation on Poinciana Road Koongal where at least one house is likely to have burned down. CHRIS ISON CI17/1009/7

FLASHBACK: Remembering the 2009 Caulfield Cup bushfires

"RED, red red!''

The firefighter red alert code crackled across emergency service radios as multiple sirens began wailing near Caulfield Cup start time, Saturday, October 17, 2009.

Across Rockhampton, it looked like a bomb had gone off in the Lakes Creek area as a huge, fast moving bushfire, billowing mountainous clouds of smoke and flames, raced out of the national park and into the city.

Morning Bulletin photographer Chris Ison, the only staff member on duty and covering Saturday sport, heard the alarm and was on scene in minutes.

Visibility in some streets was down to one metre. Chris captured the drama of those desperate moments when it appeared several houses, the school and the Lakes Creek meat works would be lost to the roaring flames, powered by 40kmh winds.

The radio advice from fire communication to all available crews was, "if you see something on fire, put it out!''.

It was all hands to the pump for frantic homeowners, neighbours and fire fighters.

In the chaos, Chris raised the alarm and Bulletin off-duty staff scrambled.

Six staff, including three enjoying the big Caulfield Cup race day in Rockhampton, dropped everything to cover the fires.

The Lakes Creek Hotel became an ad hoc evacuation centre and a reporter headed there as police blocked off roads.

We broke the story on The Bulletin website, informing anxious citizens about what was going down, the first of any online media.

We updated the main fire tracking story more than a dozen times as fire fighters fought a desperate battle to save homes.

The online audience was huge as calls started coming in from national media - and even the BBC from England. The page views for the photo gallery on Saturday night hit 63,000.

Two reporters went out to the fires on Saturday night into Sunday morning taking incredible images of fire fighters and residents defending their homes.

The online fire story was updated 20 times by 11pm Saturday as the emergency unfolded.

As the fire threat escalated over the next week we updated readers every two hours online and with seven pages in print daily.

It was a miraculous effort that only one house was lost on wildfire weekend in Rockhampton.

Ten years later the memories are still fresh and bushfire threat also very real.

 



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