2 firefighters die, 3 hurt as wildfires ravage Australia

PERTH, Australia — Two volunteer firefighters died Thursday while battling wildfires ravaging Australia’s most populous state, forcing Prime Minister Scott Morrison to cut short his family holiday as authorities braced for temperatures to soar in New South Wales at the weekend.

Geoffrey Keaton, 32, and Andrew O’Dwyer, 36, were in a truck convoy fighting blazes southwest 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.

“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, socialize together, they’re very interactive together.”

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 southwest of Sydney.

Cooler conditions provided desperately needed relief Friday, but scorching temperatures are forecast at the weekend with Sydney’s western suburbs tipped to reach 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit).

New South Wales declared a seven-day state of emergency Thursday as around 2,000 firefighters battle 100 wildfires across the state. Around 3 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.

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

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

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.

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

Morrison has copped criticism for going on a family holiday in Hawaii during the wildfires crisis, but said he would cut short his vacation 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,” 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.”

Tristan Lavalette, The Associated Press

Australia

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Anti-racism demonstration was not a ‘peaceful protest,’ as sides spar in Red Deer

Two groups that rallied in Red Deer on Sunday afternoon could only… Continue reading

Addressing anti-mask protests poses a challenge for leaders, experts say

Quebec’s COVID-19 case numbers hit their highest numbers since the end of May

Canada’s Kennedy to yesterday’s man: former PM John Turner dead at 91

Politicians and other public figures immediately began sharing memories

QUIZ: A celebration of apples

September is the start of the apple harvest

Five things to watch for in the Canadian business world in the coming week

The 2020 Global Business Forum in Banff, Alta., will be held as a special hybrid event

New tools, ideas needed to speed up housing strategy funding, CMHC president says

Slow turnaround time on some of its national housing strategy programs

Letter containing ricin sent to White House may have come from Canada: RCMP

The letter contained ricin, a toxic substance found naturally in castor beans

Nunavut reports first confirmed COVID-19 cases, saying both are mine workers

The territory says at this time, there is no evidence of transmission within site

B.C. migrant, undocumented workers rally for permanent residency program

The pandemic has shown how heavily Canada relies on migrant and undocumented workers

Wetaskiwin RCMP make arrests for Hit and Run to residence

Damage estimates are expected to be in excess of $20,000.

Former prime minister John Turner dead at 91

TORONTO — Former prime minister John Turner, whose odyssey from a “Liberal… Continue reading

Hay’s Daze: Happy to be left out of the picture

Talk about being out of the loop. Head in the sand. Uninformed,… Continue reading

Most Read