Despair, chaos or feeling blessed
In limbo: Jean Lambert with her dog Candy. Picture: Nic Ellis/The West Australian

Some sat quietly, wiping away tears, as the reality of losing everything they owned sank in.

Others pleaded for answers, approaching their 24th hour of not-knowing, while those who had escaped the fire's unpredictable wrath were counting their blessings, consoling friends and neighbours and finding ways to help those who had not been so lucky.

The mix of despair, heartbreak, confusion and, in some cases, relief was etched across the faces of almost 1000 residents who gathered at Brown Park community centre in Swan View yesterday.

As authorities briefed the community, the extent of the devastation became clear, and emotions spilled over.

Retiree Rob Mattson sat on the floor, his head in his hands, after getting the phone call that he and his wife Gayle were among the unlucky ones.

Towards the back of the room, Natasha Freeman-Smith and daughter Alana, 11, hugged and wept as they, too, came to terms with losing their home.

Many others were gripped by uncertainty and pleaded with DFES to be allowed to return home and survey the damage.

A tearful Jean Limbert, clutching her dog Candy, said her mobile phone battery was flat so authorities would not have been able to call to tell her if her Gilfellon Road home was gone.

"We don't know anything, we were just right in the middle of . . . the fire zone," she told the meeting.

Her husband George said not knowing the fate of their home of 20 years was extremely trying.

"The only thing I would like to know is if it's been a write-off or if it's all right," Mr Limbert said. "It would give you something to think about, right now we don't know anything."

He said they had about 10 minutes to leave and little chance to grab anything.

But he was happy they and their dog Candy were safe.

At 5pm, the couple's daughter Carol Lander said she had still not received a call from authorities about her parents' home.

"I'm assuming it's still there but my mum's gut feeling is that it's gone," she said.

She said her parents, like many others, would be in limbo until they could return to their properties and see for themselves.

Remarkable stories of survival and near-misses emerged as evacuated residents comforted one another and waited for more news.

Jenny said she had been at church with her parents when an announcement was made about the fire.

They returned to her parents' home at the corner of Riley and Stoneville roads, grabbed the dogs and the emergency pack of important documents and left.

"The ash was everywhere, the fire bomber was about 100m away," she said.

"The smoke was awful, we couldn't stay," she said.

Yesterday morning she said her parents were still unsure whether their home had survived the blaze.

As those affected came to terms with their loss, all around them locals and the wider community swung into action.

Piles of donated clothes, bedding and toys built up in a corner of the Brown Park centre, while volunteers rushed around with plates of food and bottles of water.

Within hours, banks, insurance companies, welfare agencies, chaplains, Western Power staff and food vans had set up at the community meeting point.

People from all over Perth arrived laden with clothes, while locals arrived to offer free accommodation for evacuated residents.

Lydia Foster had feared the worst after hearing eight homes had gone up on Grenville Road.

She cried tears of relief after yesterday's meeting where she heard her home was safe.

"Our sheds exploded and the house is badly affected by smoke, and we don't know when we can get home," she said.

"But everyone is safe, that's all that matters."

The West Australian

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