A friend of mine nearly lost his house during the fires, and told me of seeing fully grown, burning Radiata pines being thrown through the air. He was lucky to make it out of his street - every house in it was destroyed except his. He cites his frantic planting of lots of non-native, non-flammable plants in his garden. When I first saw his new house in about 2000 I can remember commenting that the pine plantation was a bit close for comfort - we grew up in the bushland northern suburbs of Sydney, so we are well acquainted with big fires and fire tornados.
As for back-burning - it is still carried out in Australia, despite what the Anti-Enviro-Nuts claim; the problem with the Canberra fire was a whopping great commercial pine plantation full of extremely flammable trees that DON'T get back burned because they are a farm. The said plantation was slap-bang in the middle of Canberras youngest suburbs.... what could possibly go wrong?
There was also some woeful management of the progenitor fire that had been burning in wilderness (and there is some seriously inaccessible country down there) for a week with little or no monitoring from people who should have been doing their jobs properly. That combined with the usual Australian State vs Local vs ACT 'It's on YOUR turf' buck-passing, and an almost total lack of civil warning systems or even civil training for bushfire defense. A few years later in 2009 it all happened again in Victoria and we lost 173 lives.
What continues to amaze me is the utter lack of airborne firefighting assets we have here. Every year the news goes on about how Elvis the fucking helicopter is here again - I think Australia leases TWO SkyCranes to defend the entire Eastern seaboard during summer. Why we don't have a fleet of Hercs or Martin Mars firebombers is one of the reasons we are called Austfailia, I guess. When you hear the news say fire-bombing helicopters, they mean Hughes 500s lifting about a bathtub-full; which mostly evaporates when dropped on a flame-front.
At least we know how to flood-proof our cities, eh? oh... wait.... no we don't.....