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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 1 Hansard (30 January) . . Page.. 32 ..

MR BERRY (continuing):

These things I have experienced. I have been run over by a fire front. It is not much fun. I doubted the person who said, "You'll be right."Crouching and cringing behind a spray of water, I was quite frightened. It did not improve much the second time. I reckoned I would survive, but the smell of plastic inside the car where I sought refuge was a bit disconcerting as the red glow went past and the visibility dropped.

I was thinking of all the things people would be going through-facing the fire front, turning around and seeing houses or properties behind them alight, and deciding whether to let them go or to fight on.

When I arrived in Canberra, all of the emergency services were well into it. The operation was extremely well organised from where I sat. I then got on with the job of looking after my house and my neighbours' houses. There was a fair bit of panic about. I was wishing I had done a little more gardening in the past and prepared a little better. I began searching for a duffel coat and old firemen's boots to make sure I would be adequately protected should the need arise.

I did not believe at first that it could happen, but when I thought about ember storms that might occur I knew that I had a problem in my own back yard and that if I was not there there was a fair chance my house would go, and probably somebody else's with it.

These are the issues that many Canberrans have learned to confront. I was merely a citizen learning to confront these things myself, because I had not had to do it before. This is something we are going to have to face over and over again as this bush capital matures. This city is part of the bush, in effect, and as it matures further it will become even more so.

I recall the fire in 1994. It was not a fire that had been raging for days or weeks. It was a fire that started on the roadside on the Black Mountain reserve. It whipped around the Black Mountain reserve and started to get into O'Connor. Many years ago when I was in the fire service, we used to discuss not if but when these sorts of events would occur.

Sadly, such an event has occurred, and there has been a stark realisation that we will have to deal with housing design issues and our preparedness for this sort of event in the future. I am sure we will have to deal with it again. Today's extreme fire weather is a warning of that. It will not necessarily be a fire from outside the territory. By all accounts, it will probably be a local one that will cause our difficulties. There are many leafy suburbs in all of our electorates about which we can worry.

On a few occasions I have distributed information to householders about how they might better prepare themselves for fire. But like many Canberrans, they have never really thought it would come to this. That is the view I held for some time, although I have had a growing concern about it as I have seen the houses disappearing amongst the trees. I hope that the treescape, if I can call it that, in the ACT is not the one to suffer in the end. In the early days there was a tendency to blame our bush capital, with its attractive landscape dotted with native trees, for its own problems. I trust that not too much pressure will be put on all of us to reduce the great landscape that has developed since Canberra started.

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