Where there is smoke, there is fire

16th December stockdill fire

As I’ve mentioned previously on the blog, I like to chase storms around the region. It’s been a pretty abysmal year in Canberra for a storm nut. A very quiet season as El Nino kicks our butt. Lots of dry weather and low humidity. So, when a chance to go and shoot a storm pops up, I tend to jump at the opportunity.

On the afternoon of 16th of December, the radar was looking good. A group of small cells was rolling into Canberra. It wasn’t a particularly strong storm but it looked to have good rainfall and a reasonable amount of lightning. I quickly packed my gear and shot out the door.

A short drive down the road and I arrived at one of my favourite local spots. Stockdill Drive behind Holt. I was a little late to this storm and it was passing by right in front of me and rather quickly. I hurried to get all my gear out of the car.

While I was setting up my tripod, a huge bolt of lightning struck just in front of me, no more than a 200-300 meters. The sound was deafening and there was a distinct taste of metal in the air, typical of close strikes. It wasn’t raining where I was and the storm was still a good 10km’s from where I was standing. This type of lightning strike is known as clear air lightning. It’s commonly referred to as “A bolt from the blue”…. I quickly changed my mind and set the tripod up in the car instead. It was a little too close for me.

After a few minutes of frustration watching lightning strike just out of the frame of my camera, I decided to move up the road a little, to get a better angle. As I started putting things back in the car, I could smell smoke in the air. It wasn’t thick and I couldn’t see anything obvious around me.

I move up the hill and setup once again. 10-15 minutes had passed since the close strike and I looked back towards the spot I had just left. There was smoke just down the valley I was photographing and it was getting thicker. The lightning had started a fire and with no rain, it was obviously starting to spread. I called 000.

Fire from lightning

I spoke with the gentleman at the fire department and gave the best description I could of where the fire was located. It was down the hill from where I was and I couldn’t see it directly, just the plumes over the treetops. The fire brigade had sent a truck to investigate and I was asked to stay in case they needed me to show them where it was.

Another 10 minutes and the smoke is now looking much thicker and the area it covers is wider. I can hear the fire truck coming and when they arrive, they can see the smoke and quickly drive down to the nearest access road. The storm is now over for me and I decide to head home.

I later find out that the fire had spread to approximately 300 meters and would have quickly gotten out of control had it gone unreported. On this day, if I had been just a few hundred meters in either direction along the road, I would have thought it was raining and that the fire wouldn’t last too long. The rest of the road was soaked but where I was it was completely dry. In reality, a fire like this can easily be started just outside of a rain band and once in full swing, can start to spread regardless of the wet ground it reaches, drying off the surrounding area as it heats up the ground.

It’s always better to play it safe. If you see smoke, call 000.

Where there is smoke, there is fire

Canberra Weather

One of my favourite pastimes is chasing storms around the region. I’ve been known to take a drive for a few hours just to see a bit of lightning and hear the boom of some thunder. It both excites me and relaxes me. The smell of ozone in the air and the cooling rains that flow in, calm me.

Combined with my photography, storms are at the forefront of my mind come spring and summer.

This post has a few of my favourite shots from over the past few years with some descriptions of where they were shot.

stockdill driveLooking west from Stockdill Dr, Holt. A front moves through with heavy rains and a short lived storm.

national arboretum canberraLooking north-west towards MacGreggor from the National Arboretum. A large and powerful gust front and very heavy rains move in from the west.

corkscrewThe Corkscrew. Horse Park Drive, Gungahlin, looking east.

mammatus near crookwellJust outside Crookwell, NSW, mammatus clouds form after the storm. There were more to come later that evening.

storms over cooma with starsA star filled background to a very active storm just north of Cooma, NSW. Shot from Stockdill Drive, Holt.

black mountain towerWinter rains from Lake Burely Griffin.

the shedDarkening clouds as the storm approaches from the north. Jaramlee Stud, Dunlop

lake george rainbowRainbow over Lake George, NSW.

Rural Lightning CrashesLightning behind the house on the hill. Dog Trap Rd, NSW. South of Murrumbateman.

Sunset RainLight rains fall at sunset. Strathnairn Gallery and Residence, Stockdill Rd, Holt.

Lightning over the rangesParkwood Road, (technically NSW). Near MacGreggor.

Murrumbateman lightningBarton Highway, south of Murrumbateman, NSW

Crawling the SkyLightning crawler. End of Stockdill Drive looking west.

Panoramic GustfrontGust front following the Barton Hightway back to Canberra. 3 shot panorama.

Severe Storm ApproachesAnother gust-front. Parkwood Road near Ginninderra Falls.

MammatusyMammatus clouds, Parkwood Road.

Dark Sunset LightningCloud to Cloud (CC) lightning, Parkwood Road.

Parkwood LightningParkwood Road

West LightningLightning over Weston Creek. John Gorton Drive.

Framed by LightningTelstra Tower framed by lightning. Top of Stockdill Road.

At sunsetStockdill Road, Holt.

Roll Cloud LightningRarely seen in Canberra, an Arcus (roll) Cloud. Shot from the viewing platform at Telstra Tower.

Canberra Weather

Canberra From an Alleyway

Canberra, behind the scenes. in the shadows and between the buildings. In those places, Canberra is the same as any city. It’s usually dirty, often creepy but also full of texture, interest and moments usually unseen.

I’m wandering around with my little camera in Deakin, waiting for my partner to finish her appointment. I see a narrow space between two buildings, it’s a drainage space and I’m the curious type. I walk through, it’s a tight space, it’s only just wide enough to walk down and it’s still wet from the day’s rain.

The drain is dirty but the dirt isn’t soil and garbage, it’s feces. Pigeon poo! And it is everywhere. It reminds me of caving when I was a teenager and being told of bat guano and the disease it carries. The smell isn’t too bad though, so I make the decision to explore a little and see if there is anything to photograph.

Not finding much of anything but two roosting Pigeons, lazing in a corner of some ducting, I turn to leave and it’s only then that I see a photo I want to capture.

There’s a corrugated rolling garage door across the street and it’s framed by the entrance to the drainage space. I like the grunge of the walls where I am, the differences in light and the garage door as a backdrop. Now I have to wait for however long it takes. I need someone to walk into shot.

I feel a little dirty, leaning against the wall, waiting for someone to cross my line of sight. It’s not the dirt on the wall that makes me feel this way, it’s more the fact that I’m hidden in the dark, lying in wait.

The seconds and the minutes go by and no one is walking past. The street is empty and I’m not the most patient person. I start to question my time here and after 15 minutes of holding the camera awkwardly my arms are getting sore.

Eventually, an old lady walks by, hobbling along with her shopping bag half full. I wait for her stride, I need both her feet to meet the ground. I get one shot and then she’ll walk past my field of view.

When her left foot hits the ground, I press the button and I’m done. My one shot. A moment that takes 15 minutes of waiting but 100th of a second to capture.


Canberra From an Alleyway