August 1, 2021


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2 Firefighters Die in Australia Fires and Scott Morrison Ends Vacation

2 Firefighters Die in Australia Fires and Scott Morrison Ends Vacation

MELBOURNE, Australia — Two volunteer firefighters died on Thursday night while battling ferocious blazes in the region surrounding Sydney, prompting Australia’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, to say he would cut short a family vacation to Hawaii that had enraged constituents.

The firefighters, Geoffrey Keaton, 32, and Andrew O’Dwyer, 36, had been among a convoy trying to fend off wildfires southwest of Sydney when their truck hit a tree and rolled over, killing them and injuring three other passengers, the authorities said. They were the first firefighter deaths in a fire season that has overwhelmed the largely volunteer brigades battling the blazes.

“This is an absolutely devastating event in what has already been an incredibly difficult day and fire season,” the New South Wales Rural Fire Service said in a statement released on Friday. Both men were fathers to young children. “Our hearts are breaking,” the service’s association president, Brian McDonough, said in a statement.

Sharon Ellicott, the chief executive of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service Association, which represents volunteer firefighters, said that the association had historically been opposed to compensating volunteer firefighters, because it could damage the service’s ethos.

But, she added, “we’re really in unprecedented times.”

In addition to the two firefighters who died, five others were injured in a nearby blaze, with three of them taken to the hospital suffering serious burns on Thursday, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

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