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Canberra Jews survey fire damage

SYDNEY, Australia, Jan. 21 (JTA) — Canberra’s Jewish community is offering to help community members whose lives have been scorched by the bush fires that ravaged Australia’s capital. Four people have been killed in the fires, and over 400 houses destroyed. One family that has been offered aid is the Morrises, who returned to their family home in the suburb of Chapman after the fire subsided to find it completely destroyed. “Only a few walls were standing,” Clive Morris, 44, told JTA, “and everything in the house has been reduced to ashes.” After watching the fires advance, the family had to leave home suddenly as winds pushed the fires in their direction. “Suddenly everything went very dark and there was ash everywhere. My mouth was full of it,” Juliette Morris said. “We were throwing wet towels on to the roof, but spot fires had already started in the garden as hot embers carried by the wind landed on our property.” “I stood on my balcony and could see the flames heading our way. They were over 60 feet high,” she said. “They were literally eating their way through the adjoining suburbs.” The family was especially upset that, in the panicked rush away from the fire, they forgot their pet rabbit and cat in the house. Of the 22 homes in the Morris’ street, 17 were destroyed by the fire. The Canberra Jewish community has offered any help they need in the short term, including clothes and toys for the children. Canberra has a population of 300,000, including approximately 500 Jews. Pam and George Rothman spent a tranquil Saturday morning in Canberra’s synagogue, with Pam Rothman preparing the kiddush. But the afternoon was to be anything but peaceful, as they crammed nine people into their car and tried to outrun the flames approaching the Chapman neighborhood. Some 50 yards ahead, however, they found that fallen trees had blocked the exits to their street. The family abandoned the car and fled on foot, trying to outrun the flames fanned by furious winds. “We spent one day wondering if we had a house left,” George Rothman told JTA, “but we were one of the lucky families.”