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

Workers were busy getting a tall crane in place Thursday morning for the construction of the new courthouse in downtown Red Deer. The facility will include modern technology and replace the existing courthouse upon completion expected in spring 2023. Photo by Paul Cowley/Advocate staff
Work on Red Deer Justice Centre progressing

Construction of the new courthouse in downtown Red Deer was visible Thursday… Continue reading

Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance responds to a question during a news conference Friday, June 26, 2020 in Ottawa. Vance is ordering his troops to be ready to pick up COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. and Europe on short notice, and prepare to help distribute the doses while responding to floods and other emergencies. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Defence chief says CAF will be ready after ordering COVID-19 vaccine prep last week

OTTAWA — The Canadian Armed Forces received formal orders last week to… Continue reading

Geoff Neville poses for a photo with his sons Casey, 3, left, and Ryder, 6, in this undated handout photo. Geoff Neville is a rotational worker in Newfoundland and Labrador who works in a mine in Nunavut for 14 days in a row and then gets 14 days off to come home and see his family. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Geoff Neville
‘I’d love to be home:’ N.L. rotational workers facing bullying online

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — As Geoff Neville waited this week in a… Continue reading

Justice Minister David Lametti arrives for a news conference in Ottawa, Thursday November 26, 2020. The Liberal government is set to introduce long-awaited legislation today to enshrine the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canadian law. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Bill to enshrine UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canadian law

OTTAWA — The Liberal government is set to introduce long-awaited legislation today… Continue reading

In this Nov. 26, 2020, photo, President Donald Trump speaks with reporters after participating in a video teleconference call with members of the military on Thanksgiving, at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Trump expected to flex pardon powers on way out door

WASHINGTON — Advocates and lawyers anticipate a flurry of clemency action from… Continue reading

Dan Cochrane, senior pastor at CrossRoads Church. Contributed photo
CrossRoads Church closes its doors for two weeks after staff member tests positive for COVID-19

CrossRoads Church made the decision to cancel in-house services for two weeks… Continue reading

File Photo
Sylvan Lake Town Council squashes mask bylaw

The bylaw did not make it past first reading, after a 4-3 vote defeated the motion

Mikael Kingsbury, of Canada, trains during the FIS Freestyle World Cup skiing competition Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020, in Park City, Utah. Kingsbury will miss moguls races for the first time in his World Cup career after suffering a back injury in training on Sunday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Jeff Swinger
Canadian moguls star Mikael Kingsbury out four to six weeks with back injury

MONTREAL — Canada’s Mikael Kingsbury will miss moguls races for the first… Continue reading

Detail of James Wilson Morrice's "LaPlage."
James Wilson Morrice canvas outperforms at auction with more than million-dollar sale

A canvas by Montreal-born artist James Wilson Morrice exceeded expectations with a… Continue reading

Bank buildings are photographed in Toronto's financial district on Wednesday, June 27, 2018. International comparisons suggest Canadian financiers are oiling the wheels of the fossil fuel industry at a far greater rate than their peers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Tijana Martin
‘Canada really sticks out:’ Studies show banks not so green on climate change

International analyses suggest Canadian financiers are oiling the wheels of the fossil… Continue reading

Goals galore for Ronaldo, Giroud, Neymar in Champions League

Goals galore for Ronaldo, Giroud, Neymar in Champions League

Toronto Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins is seen at a media availablity to introduce new pitcher Shun Yamaguchi in Toronto on January 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Jays ‘prepared’ if things pick up on free agency and trade fronts this off-season

Jays ‘prepared’ if things pick up on free agency and trade fronts this off-season

Shaquille Murray-Lawrence, left, and teammate Taylor Austin are shown during training in Whistler, B.C., in this undated handout photo. Montreal Allouettes running back Shaquille Murray-Lawrence is used to pysching himself up to sprint down a field, evading a crush of muscled men the entire way. But mentally preparing for his latest venture required bracing for a whole new set of anxieties. As he got ready to hop in a bobsleigh for the first time, Murray-Lawrence knew he'd be zipping down an icy track faster than cars are allowed to travel down most highways. Murrary-Lawrence, 27, is one of three CFL players who joined the national bobsleigh team after the league canceled its season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Shaquille Murray-Lawrence
Sliding into a new sport: CFLers turn to bobsled after football season wiped out

Sliding into a new sport: CFLers turn to bobsled after football season wiped out

North Carolina State defensive lineman Daniel Joseph (99) celebrates with linebacker Isaiah Moore after Moore forced a Liberty safety during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, in Raleigh, N.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ethan Hyman, The News & Observer via AP, Pool
Canadian defensive lineman Daniel Joseph enjoying a banner first campaign at NC State

Canadian defensive lineman Daniel Joseph enjoying a banner first campaign at NC State

Most Read