10 Years After the 2003 Canberra Fires

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By Esther Tanquintic-Misa | January 18, 2013 5:07 PM EST

As fires continued to burn to the north and south of the capital of Australia on Friday, those who lived through the horrors of the 2003 firestorm which killed four and destroyed 500 homes as well as injured hundreds of people in Canberra paused to remember the fear and lessons of survival and love that poured in 10 years ago.

More than 400 residents, officials, firefighters and others involved in the after-bushfire recovery efforts gathered for a low-key commemorative ceremony service at the ACT Bushfire Memorial in Stromlo Forest Park. Spotted among the crowd were former champion runner Robert de Castella who lost his home in the firestorm, as well as Chris Healy and Di Butcher who participated in the recovery process.

Katy Gallagher, ACT chief minister, and Jane Smyth, former Chapman resident who lost her home to the fire 10 years ago, gave speeches and recalled the day's events a decade ago.

"We'll always remember the great losses but we also remember that time of strength following the fires when the people of Canberra and district, friends, neighbours, strangers, reached out in new ways to each other and in our time of recovery, Canberra worked as a community," Ms Smyth said.

"Many remember the smell in the air, the darkness that descended on our city, the sounds that came with the fire and then the silence that followed," Ms Gallagher said.

"But that same day, whilst we recall easily those frightening memories, we also remember the incredible stories of courage, extraordinary acts of kindness, and the genuine coming together of a community that cared deeply about each other."

People placed flowers on a reflective pond at the end of the ceremony - white for remembrance and purple for pride.

While all converged under the sweltering heat, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology said Friday had been registered as Canberra's hottest January day on record, at 41.6 degrees Celsius, just after 2:00pm AEDT. The previous record was recorded on January 31, 1968 at 41.4 degrees.

Friday also became the capital's second hottest day ever recorded, with the first registered at 42.2 degrees February 1, 1968.

"Certainly the memory of 10 years ago means the Canberra community strongly is aware of not just the danger of bushfires, but the very real impact they can have on the worst day," Andrew Stark, ACT Rural Fire Service Chief Officer, said.

"Our responses to emergencies have been overhauled, lessons learnt in the harshest possible way," Ms Gallagher said.

"We have learnt much from lessons learnt much from the experiences of that year, and as our city is a safer place as a result we are now better prepared for an emergency than ever before."

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