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 Tuesday, 21 January, 2003, 12:29 GMT
Canberra fires: Your experiences
A state of emergency has been declared in the Australian capital, Canberra, with much of the city surrounded by raging bushfires.

Four people have died and more than 400 homes destroyed.

Strong winds and high temperatures could whip up more fires, authorities have warned.

Large areas of south-eastern Australia are being ravaged by fires, said to be the worst in 50 years.

Have you been affected by the fires?

This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

I was just glad to be safe

Bill, Canberra, Australia
I was at work in the Canberra hospital on Saturday afternoon, when I was told to get home to Holt as homes were in danger. Most of the roads were full of people, some getting out, others moving livestock to safer areas and of course sightseers out watching the fires. When I got home I cleaned out my gutters and went around damping down everything around the house, then sat on the roof to see how serious things were. An hour later the police arrived and told us to evacuate.

I couldn't believe it, could things have really got this bad? Where do you start, what do you take? I just packed what I could and left to stay at a friend's house for a couple of nights. But I'll never forget just how bad I felt when I had to leave my house thinking that it may be the last time I would see it and thinking about the things I had to leave behind. When I learned later about what had happened elsewhere in the city I knew my worries were nothing by comparison and I was just glad to be safe.
Bill, Canberra, Australia

Two of my work colleagues had their houses destroyed by the fire, they lived in Duffy. They also knew the man that died in the fire. One of them lost his house, truck and boat. They decided to go to the movies because it was so hot, when they came back everything was gone. But talking to them you would never know, they were more concerned about the others that were caught up in the fire, they reminded me how proud I was to be an Australian. The way everyone has offered help to those in need has reminded me that there is good still in this world, even if it takes a disaster to come out.
Bob French, Canberra Australia

My heart goes out to all those people who lost their homes

Ingrid, Canberra, Australia
One of my best friends lost houses on both sides of her, my uncle's house is probably gone, but there's no way we can check because roads are still blocked. I'm sure everybody knew somebody who has lost their home. The way people have come together an supported each other is amazing. Two days later my house is without phones or electricity and the offers for help have been amazing. My heart goes out to all those people who lost their homes, and all the people who fought for them and especially all the people who are helping others.
Ingrid, Canberra, Australia

The extent of the fires is beyond belief for me. When I went to visit a friend who had power last night, I drove through some of the affected areas. The extent of the blackened earth was massive. All I could think was that we were so lucky not to lose many more houses and many more lives. We live in a beautiful bush setting here that is normally the source of much pleasure. It is easy to forget it can also bring such terror.
Fiona, Australia

Canberra is calmer today. The winds have dropped off and last night was much cooler. At our office - I work for a Territory Government Department - we heard about people we know who lost houses and had narrow escapes. The speed of the fires is terrifying and people had to make quick decisions about whether to leave or to defend their homes. It is amazing that more people were not killed. One of the women who lost her house talked about the things they found in the ashes when they went back to the scene. Amazingly some items were completely undamaged. She showed us a circular piece of paper that was burnt all around. This was all that was left of her files. Her son was upset to have lost his films. Her husband was grateful that his train collection - 20 years of collecting - was stored elsewhere.
John, Canberra

We cannot believe that it has survived

Jackie, Kambah, Canberra, Australia
Local time Monday afternoon, the sky is full of smoke, the smell of fire is stronger than it was the day of the fire storm yet we are told that this smoke is from the Burrinjuk area, quite a few Kms away. Still scary though. The day of the fire storm was horrific, my partner (from Wigan) and I were up on our roof hosing it down as the hills around us burnt out of control. My sister's house in Duffy, the worst hit suburb, was right on the fire's edge, the very first street opposite the pine forests. We cannot believe that it has survived. The gardens, fences and shed are all destroyed but by some miracle the house is still there in a street that has lost over 90% of its houses.
Jackie, Kambah, Canberra, Australia

I live in Chapman. Luckily we did not lose our house on Saturday night. We have just been told that there have been 4 confirmed deaths. Power and gas is not expected to be switched back on until Tuesday afternoon at the earliest (most estimates are for Thursday). We're not supposed to drink the water, and should try not to flush the toilet as the sewage treatment plant isn't working properly. However the Canberra spirit is never down for long, we will rebound, rebuild and help our friends and neighbours recover.
Citizen, Chapman, Australia

I have lived in Canberra all my life and this is the worst thing I have ever seen. Unfortunately my Aunty, Uncle and cousin lost their house in Chapman. It was completely gutted, but as they said they have each other, they have their health and they have their family around to help them through this very tough and devastating time.
Erin, Canberra, Australia

The devastation is just unbelievable!

David, Canberra, Australia
I did not sleep all night, it was a terrible dream. My house is at the base of Mt Taylor, in Kambah. It rained ash hot embers. From my roof I could see houses in my neighbourhood burning. A few streets away there was a fire generated Tornado which ripped up 100 year old gum trees and smashed them into houses, peoples roofs got ripped off. The devastation is just unbelievable!
David, Canberra, Australia

I live in Canberra's south, in one of the high risk suburbs. The suburb is situated at the foot of Mt Taylor, a large hill which burned during the firestorm.

Around 3pm yesterday the whole sky went dark grey, almost as if a massive storm was brewing. At the top of the mountain (at least what we imagined was the top of the mountain - it was impossible to see from the smoke) we could see a line of fire.

Nearby residents were under the impression that backburning operations were being carried out by the firefighters. Listening on the radio, we found out that there were no firefighters in the area and that
the entire hill was burning out of control

Nash, Canberra
the entire hill was burring out of control. By 4pm the sky went a dark blood red colour & the temperature hit 39 - 40 degrees! I have never experienced anything like this. It was quite surreal - almost like someone's vision of hell!

At this point all we could do was pack items we could not replace - photos - documents etc and water the roof, garden and the rest of the house.
It was quite surreal - almost like someone's vision of hell !

Nash Canberra
Shortly after, the electricity cut out, and we were reduced to listening to one battery powered radio as the list of high alert suburbs got larger and larger.

We spent the evening hosing down the house. We only had a few hours of sleep.

In the morning, the electricity still had not returned, and we found most of the water in the large shopping mall had been sold out in the early hours, as water supplies in some suburbs had become dirty due to the fire's effect on the water tankers.

The electricity has only just come on (24 hours later). The sewage treatment plant is not operational and we're urged to take showers in the backyard! (I guess 36 degree weather makes it possible at the moment! ) It looks like the wind is getting stronger again. So fingers crossed!!!
Nash, Canberra

We have never seen anything like this here before. The whole city is shrouded in smoke and it is really warm with very hot weather expected again tomorrow. They were calling for volunteers to help make sandwiches for the firefighters so a friend and I have been doing that today. Thankfully, I am in a part of Canberra that has so far escaped any fires although our garden has a lot of ash on it. My thoughts and prayers are with the people who have lost loved ones and their houses.
Joy, Australia

The fire boundary has not been closer than about 2km to me here in Latham, though there are road closures very close to me. During the day I've prepared the house as recommended for bush fire safety. With 1/4 of the city blacked out, phone and sewerage problems, there are considerable difficulties to overcome still. Weather conditions tomorrow may deteriorate again, with the possibility of gusty hot W/NW winds. Tonight we can rest, and await what tomorrow may bring.
Don Clark, Canberra, Australia

Although Australians are familiar with bushfires, I don't think we've had many actually enter suburbs of major cities. There was not much one could do except fill the bath with water, throw in a few towels, listen to the radio, pack a few belongings into a couple of suitcases, clear the roof gutters of leaves & debris, watch out for burning embers, and wait for instructions. Our suburb of Aranda was (thankfully) spared, but it's not over yet. It's still very smoky, although the huge pall of smoke that covered the city yesterday is gone. The firefighters are doing a great job.
Matt Barton, Australia (Canberra)

We have lived in Canberra for 30 years but have never seen anything like it

Peter, Canberra
We have lived in Canberra for 30 years (previously natives of Blackpool), but have never seen anything like it. This morning our house was threatened by the fires, but thankfully, the helicopters managed to put out the fires on the overlooking hill. We await tomorrow....
Peter Dowling, Canberra, Australia

I was one of the team providing counselling support to the largest of the evacuation centres on Saturday. With the fire visible from the main room we were using, I was amazed by the calm and positive behaviour of everyone in the Centre. Many knew at that time that they had lost their homes, others had an agonizing wait to find out whether their properties had been spared or not. Later in the evening we had to evacuate the entire Centre and move around 2000 people to another Centre further away from the fire front. I cannot imagine how that many people, often with their family pets, moved out so quickly, quietly and efficiently. I am full of admiration for everyone who came through the Centre that night.
Angela, Australia

I live in Gordon (sth Canberra) and last night was the worst I have ever seen (and I fought the fires at Holsworthy Army base in 97). I was on the roof of my house with wet beaters, towels and our water hose when the blaze came up from Pt Hutt crossing, the local fire dept (both Metro and Rural) are doing a great job. Crews are arriving from Sydney and Victoria, today was cooler and less gusty but Mon/Tues are looking bad. I saw navy choppers lifting the water from our local pond to fight blazes south of us. We are not out of the woods yet.
john, Canberra Australia

I saw some flames around the pines in Western Canberra that must have been 100 metres high

David, Canberra, Australia
I have never seen this city so lit up before, the massive hill range just looked like a cluster of volcanoes the way they were lit up when I looked from my balcony. All the fires had just lit up in only a few hours while I was working indoors. I saw some flames around the pines in Western Canberra that must have been 100 metres high or more. Never seen anything like it before. The government around here has already been heavily criticised for not back burning. I guess these fires around here will again fuel the criticism.
David, Canberra, Australia

It is my turn to watch and wait. My wife has gone to bed at 1:15 am. I went outside to scout around, and the nearest fire front, about 1.5 km away, has quietened down considerably, if the wind stays down it will burn itself out when it reaches the firebreaks at the edge of the suburbs. Our bath and basins are still filled with water, just in case we need to defend the house, though I think we'll be fine.
John, Canberra, Australia

With fires raging out of control to Canberra's west and south the likelihood of more fires reaching suburbs in the coming days is very high

Nath, Australia
The sky was eerie today, a bit like a partial eclipse but more orange and thick with smoke - fortunately the fires haven't made it to our suburb tonight but there's still at least two very hot and windy days ahead. Canberra's emergency services and media are completely unprepared and under resourced for a disaster on this scale - with fires raging out of control to Canberra's west and south the likelihood of more fires reaching suburbs in the coming days is very high!
Nath, Australia

It's now after midnight, they've obviously faced an evening of hell in Canberra, and we're 1400 km away trying to find where they have evacuated our parents from their retirement home in the southern suburbs. It's ironic to be getting updates from BBC world. The internet is a lonely place at times like this.
Owen Clancy, Australia

We spent all afternoon preparing for the bushfires, we just hope that we'll be safe.
Jordan, Australia

I wish the people of Duffy and Canberra itself all the best and hope they get the fires under control. My wife and I used to live in Canberra and loved every minute of it.
Joe, Oman

Please do write and keep us up to date with your situations in Canberra. Our best wishes are with you.
Wei, Canada

I hope the fires are dealt with and they finish soon.
Hashmat, Afghanistan

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