Canberra is today marking the 10th anniversary of one of its darkest days.

On January 18, 2003, fires burning in the Brindabella Ranges south-west of Canberra combined to form a raging firestorm which swept into the city.

Suburbs like Duffy, Chapman, Rivett and Kambah were in the firing line and residents were given little or no warning of the danger.

Four people were killed and about 500 homes were destroyed.

The 10th anniversary of the disaster has been marked with a low-key service at the ACT Bushfire Memorial in Stromlo Forest Park.

More than 300 residents, officials, firefighters and many involved in the bushfire recovery effort gathered for the commemorative ceremony.

"All of us has a story from that day etched into our memories forever," ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher told the crowd.

"One of those moments in life when we will always remember what we were doing, how we were feeling, how normal, almost surreal, the day was.

"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.

"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."

Ms Gallagher acknowledged the journey of recovery continues for some people.

"For some, 10 years is a long time from the fires, for others the recovery continues and the memories remain raw. Everyone has a different way of coping and learning to live with the loss they suffered that day," she said.

A decade on, Ms Gallagher says Canberra has come a long way, with houses rebuilt and nature parks regenerated.

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

Former Chapman resident Jane Smyth lost her home. She told the service the trauma has strengthened the Canberra community.

"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," she said.

Moving on

The anniversary is stirring up emotions for both residents and authorities.

Some residents are still angry about the lack of warnings and they have boycotted the official service.

Former ACT Emergency Services commissioner Mark Crosweller, has told 7.30 ACT, it is time to let go of the anger.

"Simply to blame people in that circumstance ... robs us of the opportunity to forgive and move on and we really need to do that," he said.

"If people are still grieving 10 years later or if they're still angry 10 years later then we do have a problem in society."

Mr Crosweller says firefighters did all they could but it was not enough.

 

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