By Andrew Johnston
QUEANBEYAN athlete Cassie Hopkins had just finished warming up for her 400m final at last weekend’s NSW All Schools Championships in Sydney when a fellow athlete pointed out smoke rising from a nearby carpark.
Then came the explosions. Unbeknownst to Hopkins at the time, the championships had been caught up on the edge of an inferno that forced the evacuation of nearly 500 people.
47 cars were destroyed and another 30 damaged in the blaze that swept through the Sydney Olympic Park carpark last Sunday.
“We were just sitting there when one of the girls came up to me and says there was smoke in the carpark,” Hopkins said. “Then there was this loud bang and suddenly all this smoke that was a lot darker started blowing around everywhere.
“Then the bangs just kept happening but you couldn’t really tell what was going on. It was so windy and smoky and it sounded like the wind was knocking things over.
“But there were actually heaps of cars exploding right across the street.”
Several hundred people were evacuated from the nearby Sydney Acquatic Centre as a result of the fire.
Hopkins and her fellow athletes however, remained inside the athletics arena as firefighters battled the blaze outside.
As a result of the fire, the championships were suspended for more than half an hour with runners left with little to do but sit and watch the spectacle unfold around them.
Once the action got back underway, it was clear that the break and smoky conditions had done little to help Hopkins.
Already battling with her asthma, the Karabar High student faded in the 400m final to finish fourth.
The Hopkins family, meanwhile, was well represented at the championships with Cassie’s sisters Emily, Karina and Courtney as well as brother Thomas also competing.
And Andrea Thompson claimed bronze in the under-15s triple jump while also finishing fourth in the 200m and fifth in the 90m hurdles.
Queanbeyan Little Athletics resumes this Saturday, October 19 at Wright Park from 8.30am. Athletes can register at: