Two Australian firefighters die in truck accident while battling blaze

By Darryl Coote
Two Australian firefighters die in truck accident while battling blaze
Andrew O'Dwyer, 36, died Thursday when his fire truck rolled off the road after hitting a tree. Photo courtesy of New South Wales Rural Fire Service/Twitter

Dec. 20 (UPI) -- Two Australian volunteer firefighters were killed and three others were wounded when their truck rolled off the road, officials said Friday.

Geoffrey Keaton, 32, and Andrew O'Dwyer, 36, were killed Thursday night while on duty with the New South Wales Rural Fire Service, the NSW RFS said in a statement.


The vehicle was traveling in a convey when it hit a tree and rolled off the road, the NSW RFS said, adding the three firefighters sitting in the rear of the truck were transferred to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries.

"This is an absolutely devastating event in what has already been an incredibly difficult day and fire season," the NSW RFS said, adding the firefighters leave behind "loving partners and very young children."

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NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian called them "heroes."

"Our thoughts are with their loved ones and the extended RFS family as we come to terms with the devasting news," she said via Twitter.

The incident occurred as firefighters have been battling blazes statewide. Over the past three months, 7.4 million acres have been destroyed by bushfires, according to officials. On Friday, NSW RFS said over 100 fires burned throughout the state with only half contained.

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One fire located where the two firefighters died was "out of control" and was more than 176,000 hectares in size, it said. Properties in the Lake Burragorang area remain under threat with conditions expected to worsen Friday.

On Thursday, fires blazing near Sydney destroyed at least 20 properties. Earlier in the day, Berejiklian declared a state of emergency ahead of severe weather conditions over the weekend to make available additional resources.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison offered his "sincere condolences" to the families of the victims.

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"They were bravely defending their communities with an unmatched spirit and a dedication that will forever set them amongst our most courageous Australians," he said in a statement Friday. "Their sacrifice and service saving lives and saving properties will be forever remembered."

Morrison, who was on vacation in Hawaii, said given the "most recent tragic events" he'd be returning to Sydney.

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