On 18 January 2003, Canberra experienced major bushfires. Over 6 hours, The Canberra Hospital Emergency Department treated 139 patients, 105 with fire-related problems (mostly ophthalmological and respiratory), representing an additional workload of one patient every 4 minutes above average. Only 15% required hospital admission. We believe this is the largest single emergency department response to a disaster since Cyclone Tracy devastated Darwin in 1974, although the total severity of injury was relatively low. Major issues were communication difficulties and transport, with most patients (including the two most critically ill) arriving by private vehicle. Overall, medical outcomes were excellent, and the hospital system coped well.
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