Sunday 26 January 2020

Two volunteer firefighters die while battling wildfires ravaging Australia's most populous state

  • New South Wales declared seven-day state of emergency on Thursday as around 2,000 firefighters battle 100 wildfires across the state
  • Scorching temperatures forecast at weekend with Sydney's western suburbs tipped to reach 45C
  • Annual Australian fire season, which peaks during the Southern Hemisphere summer, started early after an unusually warm and dry winter
This undated handout photograph released by the New South Wales Rural Fire Service (NSW RFS) on December 20, 2019 shows volunteer firefighter Andrew O'Dwyer, 36, who was killed when his fire truck crashed whilst battling bushfires on December 19. (Photo by HANDOUT/New South Wales Rural Fire Servi/AFP via Getty Images)
This undated handout photograph released by the New South Wales Rural Fire Service (NSW RFS) on December 20, 2019 shows volunteer firefighter Andrew O'Dwyer, 36, who was killed when his fire truck crashed whilst battling bushfires on December 19. (Photo by HANDOUT/New South Wales Rural Fire Servi/AFP via Getty Images)

Tristan Lavalette

Two volunteer firefighters have died while battling wildfires ravaging Australia's most populous state, forcing Prime Minister Scott Morrison to cut short his family holiday.

Geoffrey Keaton, 32, and Andrew O'Dwyer, 36, were in a truck convoy fighting blazes south-west of Sydney when a tree fell and caused the vehicle to roll off the road.

The two men, both fathers to 19-month-old children, died at the scene while three other firefighters were injured and taken to a hospital.

New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian said the injured firefighters were in stable condition.

Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons spent the night consoling families of the victims.

"To not be coming home after their shift is a tremendous grief and I applaud the families and the loved ones for their remarkable comprehension of what's been unfolding," he told reporters.

This undated handout photograph released by the New South Wales Rural Fire Service (NSW RFS) on December 20, 2019 shows volunteer firefighter Geoffrey Keaton, 32, who was killed when his fire truck crashed whilst battling bushfires on December 19. (Photo by HANDOUT/New South Wales Rural Fire Servi/AFP via Getty Images)
This undated handout photograph released by the New South Wales Rural Fire Service (NSW RFS) on December 20, 2019 shows volunteer firefighter Geoffrey Keaton, 32, who was killed when his fire truck crashed whilst battling bushfires on December 19. (Photo by HANDOUT/New South Wales Rural Fire Servi/AFP via Getty Images)

"Both of these men were very well respected, they were very close, they're a close-knit brigade, they're a very community-focused brigade, work together, socialise together, they're very interactive together."

Mr Morrison said the two firefighters were "bravely defending their communities with an unmatched spirit and a dedication that will forever set them apart amongst our most courageous Australians".

"Their sacrifice and service saving lives and saving properties will be forever remembered. I wish those injured all the best in their recovery," he added.

The Rural Fire Service said up to 40 houses could be destroyed south-west of Sydney.

Tourists take photos of a smokey Sydney on December 19, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Jenny Evans/Getty Images)
Tourists take photos of a smokey Sydney on December 19, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Jenny Evans/Getty Images)

Cooler conditions provided desperately needed relief on Friday, but scorching temperatures are forecast at the weekend with Sydney's western suburbs tipped to reach 45C (113F).

New South Wales declared a seven-day state of emergency on Thursday as around 2,000 firefighters battle 100 wildfires across the state.

Fire and Rescue personal run to move their truck as a bushfire burns next to a major road and homes on the outskirts of the town of Bilpin on December 19, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by David Gray/Getty Images)
Fire and Rescue personal run to move their truck as a bushfire burns next to a major road and homes on the outskirts of the town of Bilpin on December 19, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by David Gray/Getty Images)
A farmer drives a tractor as he uses a hose to put out a fire burning in his paddock and near homes on the outskirts of the town of Bilpin on December 19, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by David Gray/Getty Images)
Fire and Rescue personal prepare to use a hose in an effort to extinguish a bushfire as it burns near homes on the outskirts of the town of Bilpin on December 19, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by David Gray/Getty Images)
Fire and Rescue personal run to move their truck as a bushfire burns next to a major road and homes on the outskirts of the town of Bilpin on December 19, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by David Gray/Getty Images)
Fire and Rescue personal use a hose as they try to extinguish a bushfire as it burns near homes on the outskirts of the town of Bilpin on December 19, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by David Gray/Getty Images)
A Fire and Rescue personal watches a bushfire as it burns near homes on the outskirts of the town of Bilpin on December 19, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by David Gray/Getty Images)
A farm shed and melted water tank can be seen in a paddock near homes on the outskirts of the town of Bilpin on December 19, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by David Gray/Getty Images)
A New South Wales Rural Fire Service volunteer hoses flames on a tree as a farmer drives a tractor in a burning paddock as a large bushfire burns near homes on the outskirts of the town of Bilpin on December 19, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by David Gray/Getty Images)
A local resident unwinds a hose from a tank attached to his tractor as a bushfire burns near homes on the outskirts of the town of Bilpin on December 19, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by David Gray/Getty Images)
A large tree catches alight as a bushfire burns near homes on the outskirts of the town of Bilpin on December 19, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by David Gray/Getty Images)
Fire and Rescue personal watch a bushfire as it burns near homes on the outskirts of the town of Bilpin on December 19, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by David Gray/Getty Images)
A farmer uses a hose to douse flames as he drives a tractor in a burning paddock where a large bushfire burns near homes on the outskirts of the town of Bilpin on December 19, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by David Gray/Getty Images)
Fire and Rescue personal run to move their truck as a bushfire burns next to a major road and homes on the outskirts of the town of Bilpin on December 19, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by David Gray/Getty Images)
Fire and Rescue personal run to move their truck as a bushfire burns next to a major road and homes on the outskirts of the town of Bilpin on December 19, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by David Gray/Getty Images)
Fire and Rescue personal run to move their truck as a bushfire burns next to a major road and homes on the outskirts of the town of Bilpin on December 19, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by David Gray/Getty Images)
Fire and Rescue personal try to extinguish a bushfire as it burns next to a major road and homes on the outskirts of the town of Bilpin on December 19, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by David Gray/Getty Images)
Fire and Rescue personal run to move their truck as a bushfire burns next to a major road and homes on the outskirts of the town of Bilpin on December 19, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by David Gray/Getty Images)
Fire and Rescue personal watch as a bushfire burns next to a major road and homes on the outskirts of the town of Bilpin on December 19, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by David Gray/Getty Images)
Fire and Rescue personal run to move their truck as a bushfire burns next to a major road and homes on the outskirts of the town of Bilpin on December 19, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by David Gray/Getty Images)
Fire and Rescue personal run to move their truck as a bushfire burns next to a major road and homes on the outskirts of the town of Bilpin on December 19, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by David Gray/Getty Images)
German tourists Julia Wasmiller (L) and Jessica Pryor pose for a photo at Mrs Macquarie's chair, wearing face masks due to heavy smoke on December 19, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Jenny Evans/Getty Images)
Tourists take photos of a smokey Sydney on December 19, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Jenny Evans/Getty Images)
A man looks over a smokey Sydney skyline on December 19, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Jenny Evans/Getty Images)
Tourists take photos of a smokey Sydney on December 19, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Jenny Evans/Getty Images)
Tourists take photos of a smokey Sydney on December 19, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. . (Photo by Jenny Evans/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 19: A view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge shrouded in smoke on December 19, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has declared a state of emergency for the next seven days with ongoing dangerous fire conditions and almost 100 bushfires burning across the state. It's the second state of emergency declared in NSW since the start of the bushfire season. (Photo by Jenny Evans/Getty Images)
German tourists Julia Wasmiller (L) and Jessica Pryor look on at Mrs Macquarie's chair, wearing face masks due to heavy smoke on December 19, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Jenny Evans/Getty Images)
A man looks over a smokey Sydney skyline on December 19, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Jenny Evans/Getty Images)
Tourists take photos of a smokey Sydney on December 19, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Jenny Evans/Getty Images)
Fire and Rescue personal watch a bushfire as it burns near homes on the outskirts of the town of Bilpin on December 19, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by David Gray/Getty Images)
A farmer drives a tractor as he uses a hose to put out a fire burning in his paddock and near homes on the outskirts of the town of Bilpin on December 19, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by David Gray/Getty Images)
German tourists Julia Wasmiller (L) and Jessica Pryor look on at Mrs Macquarie's chair, wearing face masks due to heavy smoke on December 19, 2019 in Sydney, Australia.(Photo by Jenny Evans/Getty Images)

Around three million hectares (7.4 million acres) of land has burnt nationwide during a torrid past few months, with six people killed and more than 800 homes destroyed.

The annual Australian fire season, which peaks during the Southern Hemisphere summer, started early after an unusually warm and dry winter.

A man looks over a smokey Sydney skyline on December 19, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Jenny Evans/Getty Images)
A man looks over a smokey Sydney skyline on December 19, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Jenny Evans/Getty Images)

The Bureau of Meteorology said Wednesday was the hottest day on record in Australia with an average of 41.9C (107.4F), beating the landmark set a day earlier by one degree.

Adelaide, in the south-east, is currently in the midst of a heatwave peaking at a sizzling 46C (115F) on Friday, while Melbourne was forecast at 44C (111F), which would be the Victoria state capital's hottest since the devastating Black Saturday wildfires in 2009.

German tourists Julia Wasmiller (L) and Jessica Pryor look on at Mrs Macquarie's chair, wearing face masks due to heavy smoke on December 19, 2019 in Sydney, Australia.(Photo by Jenny Evans/Getty Images)
German tourists Julia Wasmiller (L) and Jessica Pryor look on at Mrs Macquarie's chair, wearing face masks due to heavy smoke on December 19, 2019 in Sydney, Australia.(Photo by Jenny Evans/Getty Images)

Melbourne on Friday was shrouded in smoke wafting from the New South Wales wildfires much like the haze that has often blanketed Sydney during the past month, making its iconic skyline barely visible.

The unprecedented conditions has reignited debate on whether Australia's conservative government has taken enough action on climate change.

Australia is the world's largest exporter of coal and liquefied natural gas.

A farmer drives a tractor as he uses a hose to put out a fire burning in his paddock and near homes on the outskirts of the town of Bilpin on December 19, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by David Gray/Getty Images)
A farmer drives a tractor as he uses a hose to put out a fire burning in his paddock and near homes on the outskirts of the town of Bilpin on December 19, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by David Gray/Getty Images)
Fire and Rescue personal watch a bushfire as it burns near homes on the outskirts of the town of Bilpin on December 19, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by David Gray/Getty Images)
Fire and Rescue personal watch a bushfire as it burns near homes on the outskirts of the town of Bilpin on December 19, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by David Gray/Getty Images)

Protesters on Thursday camped outside Mr Morrison's Sydney residence demanding urgent action on climate change.

Mr Morrison has received criticism for going on a family holiday in Hawaii during the wildfires crisis, but said he would cut short his holiday and return to Sydney on Saturday.

"I deeply regret any offence caused to any of the many Australians affected by the terrible bushfires by my taking leave with family at this time," Mr Morrison said.

"I have been receiving regular updates on the bushfires disaster as well as the status of the search for and treatment of the victims of the White Island tragedy."

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