It was a massive inferno after a fuel tanker exploded on Sydney's northern beaches, trapping a group of elderly people in their car.
But several men ran towards the frightening scene to rescue those in danger.
They and many other heroes are being honoured for their courage with Australian Bravery Awards, which recognise acts of courage in circumstances other than war.
Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove thanked the award-winners for their bravery and commemorated the people who did not survive.
"Today, to their families, I express the nation's sadness at your loss but pride in your loved ones' actions," he said.
Lives saved from the inferno
Hayden Griffiths was one of the five people recognised for their bravery as the fuel tanker burst into flames.
He was just 20 years old at the time and is haunted "every single day" by that scene back in October 2013.
"It was pretty horrific, I could see the flames coming down towards the car," he said.
"First thing that popped into my head when I got out of the car and made sure I was OK myself was to help anybody that needed help at the time.
"There were four people trapped in a car, one of them was screaming help so I ran over there and pulled open the door, pulled her out."
Mr Griffiths managed to pull both women out of the car, but two men were still inside.
"At that point I noticed petrol on fire was heading towards the car. The men inside were still unresponsive, I was just about to hop into the car when someone else pulled me away from the car wreck and at that point the car had caught on fire."
The men who helped him and ultimately came to his rescue were workmates Paul Pollard and Mick O'Rourke.
"A young bloke had removed both ladies and we were dragging them off to safer ground but the petrol had come down the street under the back of the car," Mr Pollard said.
"Unfortunately it engulfed the car where the two gentlemen were trapped," Mr O'Rourke said.
"You go over it a thousand times about what could have been and what you could have done to get that car out of there and save them as well."
He said he is proud of the Star of Courage the men have been awarded with but he is still haunted by the scenario.
"Yes, you get over it but no, it doesn't ever leave your mind. I think driving a lot for me personally it's something that plays a lot in the back of your mind, especially if I come across a petrol tanker, bang it's there and I go through it again."
It's a theme that Mr Griffiths struggles with too.
"Something as simple as getting in the car or driving past a truck or driving past the scene, it brings back unpleasant memories and it's something you can't get away from," he said.
But he has no regrets.
"I was aware of the danger but more concerned for helping the people that were in need."
Now a father of a five-month-old daughter he says he hopes the award can bring some "peace of mind and some closure".
Quick thinking after shark attack
Joel Trist was out surfing at Bombo Beach, Kiama in March last year when a shark attacked his friend Brett Connellan.
"All I heard at that stage was this terrible screaming with Brett calling out for help," Mr Trist said.
He paddled over as quickly as he could to his friend, whose leg was badly injured.
Mr Trist got his friend back to shore riding out a rip and applied life-saving first aid using a surfboard strap as a tourniquet.
Mr Trist was back in the water six weeks later and has been awarded a Star of Courage for his heroism and quick thinking.
Group citation for collar bomb hostage situation
A young Sydney woman who was taken hostage and had a fake collar bomb strapped around her neck, along with 14 police officers who calmly dealt with the incident, have received a group bravery citation.
It was six years ago last month that the then high school student Madeleine Pulver became victim to a disturbed man who thought he was a character in a novel he was writing.
It took 10 long hours to declare the device safe, cut the wires and release the victim.
The perpetrator Paul Peters has since been convicted and jailed for 10 years.
Ms Pulver and other bravery-award recipients will be honoured in the coming months in ceremonies around Australia.