In the immediate aftermath of the fires questions were asked as to how the disaster could happen, and how fire could burn deep into Canberra suburbs, destroying 500 homes and killing four people.

The timely response of the New South Wales fire fighting authorities was immediately questioned.

The fires started from a lightning strike at McIntyre's Hut in the Brindabella Ranges west of Canberra 10 days before the firestorm hit the capital.

Fire fighting experts, local farmers, burnt-out Canberra residents, and even members of local NSW Rural Fire Service brigades questioned why the McIntyre's Hut fire was allowed to burn in the mountains rather than being immediately attacked.

They say the fires could have been extinguished then, rather than being left to ultimately burn into Canberra.

When the firestorm hit Canberra on January 18, 2003, residents in suburbs like Duffy who were in the firing line of the blaze were given little or no warning of the danger.

Official statements from the Emergency Services Bureau contradicted what was actually happening in the suburb, leaving residents ill-prepared for the fiery onslaught.

Soon after the fires, then ACT chief minister Jon Stanhope commissioned former Commonwealth ombudsman Ron McLeod to conduct an inquiry.

Mr McLeod concluded that the Emergency Services Bureau did not maintain adequate fire trails in the mountains or burn-off undergrowth before the fires.

He appeared to agree with the critics, claiming the response to the initial fires was not aggressive enough, and there was not enough public warning as the firestorm approached.

Mr Stanhope accepted all of Mr McLeod's 61 recommendations.

Coronial Inquest

Because four people were killed in the fires, the ACT coroner was obligated to conduct a coronial inquest.

That task fell to Coroner Maria Doogan, who carried out the largest and longest running coronial investigation ever heard in Canberra.

The inquest lasted four years, although it was interrupted for a year of that time when Stanhope's government challenged Coroner Doogan's stewardship of the Inquest.

When Mr Stanhope announced the coronial inquest immediately after the fires he described Coroner Doogan as "an excellent coroner and an excellent magistrate".

"There is to be absolutely no suggestion that this Government seeks to undermine or affect the independence of the judiciary in the pursuance of its duties in any way whatsoever," he said.

But Mr Stanhope's view of Coroner Doogan quickly changed and a little over a year after the inquest began Mr Stanhope applied in his capacity as attorney-general to have her removed.

That attempt failed in the ACT Supreme Court and three years later Coroner Doogan delivered her findings in a mammoth two volume report.

It was scathing of Mr Stanhope and his government, which it criticised for giving insufficient warning to the residents of Canberra of the impending firestorm.

But the coronial findings saved their greatest criticism for four senior ACT government employees which it said had failed to adequately attack the fires or warn the public.

Civil litigation

Some of those burnt out by the fires sought compensation from the ACT and NSW governments, which they say were negligent in their handling of the fires.

Civil action began in March 2010, with the compensation hearing running on and off for about 20 months, including more than 80 days of evidence and submissions.

It became the largest piece of civil litigation ever seen in the ACT.

Chief Justice Terence Higgins reserved his judgment in November 2011, saying he would make no promise about when he would deliver his decision.

In September 2012, litigation against the ACT Government ended.

Law firm Stacks, which represented about 100 plaintiffs, settled out of court with the ACT and NSW governments.

Farmer Wayne West and insurance giant QBE continued to pursue the NSW Government.

Chief Justice Higgins handed down his decision last December, finding the NSW Government negligent in its handling of the 2003 bushfires.

He found the NSW Government was negligent when it failed to quickly contain the McIntyre's Hut fire on January 8, 2003.

Despite the finding of negligence, Chief Justice Higgins found in favour of NSW because a state law exempts the Government of liability if its actions or those of its firefighters were done in good faith.

Mr West is appealing against the decision.

"The defendants had to prove good faith. We believe they did not prove good faith in the courtroom. They produced no evidence saying they acted in good faith, and we'll appeal the decision that was handed down," he said.

But he says the decision is not all bad news, with the finding of negligence a significant victory.

"The decision was a vindication of what we've said all the time, that the fires could have been put out. And that's what we were here for, to prove that the management of those fires was very poor and they were allowed to burn," he said.

"There could have been action taken to prevent the fire escaping, the fires shouldn't have burnt the houses and the four lives and the injuries in Canberra."

NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons says it was a significant judgment.

"I am pleased that the judgment today reflects the fact that firefighters acting in good faith are protected by the law," he said.