'Unrelenting Grief': Thousands Gather For Emotional Tribute To Hero Firefighters, Bushfire Victims
Heartbreaking scenes filled a Sydney arena as families of firefighters who lost their lives gathered to mark the ultimate sacrifice they'd given to keep others safe.
The devastating and lingering impact of the NSW bushfire crisis will long be felt, especially for the families of the 25 people who lost their lives during the devestating crisis.
Thousands more also had their homes damaged or destroyed.
On Sunday, thousands gathered at a state memorial service at Sydney's Qudos Bank Arena, with politicians, families, and ordinary citizens coming together to pay tribute to those who had lost their lives during Australia's "black summer" of fires.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison spoke of "a season of air you couldn't breathe and of orange skies that wouldn't rain." He described this summer as leaving "an unforgettable trauma absorbed into our very beings and of unrelenting grief, for our land, our wildlife and our families."
Tributes flowed, too, for the American airmen who died in a plane crash near Cooma, as well as the three RFS volunteers who were also killed battling blazes across the partly charred state.
The memorial comes as the federal government begins a royal commission into the bushfires that savaged the nation over the summer.
The inquiry will focus on which levels of government are responsible for preparedness, response, resilience and recovery from fires, and how this can be better coordinated.
The heartbroken wife of one of the Americans also gave her deepest thanks to the people of Australia.
Captain Ian McBeth, first officer Paul Clyde Hudson and flight engineer Rick DeMorgan Jr were killed when their C130 water-bombing tanker crashed northeast of Cooma on January 23.
Rebekah DeMorgan was among hundreds who paid tribute to the sacrifices of her husband and other firefighters during a state memorial service at Sydney Olympic Park on Sunday.
She travelled from the United States with her children Lucas and Logan Grace.
"The service was very nice and the country has been phenomenal in the way it has supported us," she told AAP.
"There's been lots of love and support. The people that have supported us over here, we can never thank them enough."
Volunteer firefighters from across the state travelled to the memorial in Sydney in a display of solidarity.
Hawkesbury firefighter Noel Eather came to the memorial with his son Luke, also an RFS volunteer.
"We are here to show some respect for the lives that were lost," he told AAP.
"I lost a cousin in a bushfire at Lithgow years ago so this is pretty close to home for me.
"I've been with the RFS for 27 years. It's like one big family."