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Fires Threaten Nation's Capital; 100 Homes Lost; State Of Emergency Declared

January 18, 2003 - 7.30pm AEST

A State Of Emergency has been declared in the Australian Capital Territory, home to Canberra, the political capital, as out-of-control fires threaten numerous suburbs. At least 100 homes are reported to have been lost, with dozens more likely to be destroyed. There is an unconfirmed report of one death.

The ABC is reporting that fire task forces out of Wagga and Sydney are on their way to Canberra.

The weather is not predicted to improve over the next couple of days, adding a further element of uncertainty and danger to an already serious situation. Fires are threatening the city from the south and west. Jon Stanhope, the ACT's Chief Minister, said today that the ACT faced its most serious test in its history. There have been power cuts in the ACT and many internet sites are unreachable.

ACT WEATHER FORECAST

According to the Canberra Meteorological Office at 5.13pm, it has been "a very hot and windy day with widespread smoke and haze across the ACT. The winds have remained fresh to strong at times west to northwesterly. The maximum temperature to 3:30 PM was 37 degrees. The ACT Emergency Services Bureau advise that a Total Fire Ban is in force until midnight Tuesday night. Fire Weather Warning for today and tomorrow. A SmallBoat Alert for this afternoon."

The official forceast for Saturday night and Sunday is: "Dry. Areas of Smoke persisting. Fresh west to northwesterly winds with a gusty southeast to east change this evening. Light and variable winds at first tomorrow, moderate westerlies in the afternoon before a late easterly change towards evening. Min Tonight: 17, Max: 34."

The ABC is reporting that at least 100 homes have been lost, including a number within 5 kilometres of Parliament House. The smoke haze is enveloping all of Canberra.

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