Brett McNamara fought the flames in the hills around Canberra for 10 days until they followed him home on January 18, 2003.

At the time, Mr McNamara was a senior national park ranger living at the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve about 50 kilometres south-west of Canberra.

He had helped to try and extinguish the blazes burning through remote bushland, but in the end they overran his isolated homestead and nearly claimed his life.

He recently took the ABC back to his former home site, which has now been reclaimed by blackwood regrowth and eastern grey kangaroos.

Today there is not much to show for the sprawling family home he once shared with his young family.

A green plastic chair, the remains of a bird feeder, the rocks he had collected from the surrounding bush to landscape his yard.

But now the kangaroos call the place home. It is not a place for people any more.

"I can recall crawling across the front yard here, as I was actually engulfed in the firestorm," Mr McNamara said.

"I had a facecloth on my face and it actually caught alight, and I honestly thought that I was going to die."

Hard to return

With most of his workplace charred by the massive fires, Mr McNamara spent months helping the bushland heal.

For him, it seemed easier to help with the physical recovery than confront the emotion of his loss.

"On reflection, there are probably a couple of things I would do differently in terms of getting more help," Mr McNamara said.

"I must admit, a few years after the 18th of January 2003, I had a lot of trouble really coming back to this particular location. It was one of those experiences that you put in the back of your mind.

"But as the years roll on, it's become a little bit easier. Perhaps the best way to describe it is that the pain's not as strong as it once was. There's still a bit of a pain there, but it's not as raw.

"It's such an emotional rollercoaster ride you go through."

Lessons learned

As a park ranger, Mr McNamara is more philosophical than most about his tribulations a decade ago.

"We'll never, ever forget," he said.

"A lot of lessons were learnt from that particular day and they're the things that we need to keep top of mind as a community as we move forward over the next 10, 20, 30, 40 years."

He says he has drawn strength and purpose from seeing how nature has recovered.

"Fire has been shaping and moulding and crafting this landscape for millenniums," he said.

"It's only in the last couple of hundred years that we Europeans have put ourselves into this landscape ... and it's one of those aspects we need to come to grips with as a community.

"It takes us a little bit longer to recover from those sorts of events than the environment, but that probably speaks more of the fragility of the human spirit."

See more of Brett McNamara's story tonight on ABC TV News Canberra from 7:00pm AEDT.


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