The NSW Rural Fire Service has confirmed two NSW RFS volunteer firefighters died on Thursday near Buxton, in south western Sydney.
The on-duty firies were travelling through the fire ground when their vehicle hit a tree before rolling off the road.
Another three firefighters have received injuries as a result of the rollover.
“This is an absolutely devastating event in what has already been an incredibly difficult day and fire season,” the RFS said in a statement.
Scott Morrison Cuts Holiday Short
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison issued a statement on Friday morning saying he would be returning to Sydney as soon as could be arranged.
He has weathered a storm of criticism on social media in recent days for going on an overseas holiday during the emergency, adding to criticism that his government is failing to deliver adequate climate change policies.
“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.
His office had initially refused to confirm media reports he was vacationing in Hawaii. About 500 protesters had gathered outside his official Sydney residence on Thursday to demand urgent action on climate change.
State Of Emergency
NSW declared its second emergency in as many months on Thursday as extreme heat and strong winds stoked more than 100 bushfires, including three major blazes on Sydney’s doorstep.
A day after Australia recorded its hottest day on record, thick smoke blanketed the harbour city, shrouded the Opera House and brought many outdoor activities to a halt.
The state of emergency declaration gave firefighters broad powers to control government resources, force evacuations, close roads and shut down utilities across NSW, which is home to more than 7 million people.
Authorities said nearly 120 fires remained ablaze by late afternoon, more than half of which are uncontrolled, and with temperatures forecast to top 45 degrees Celsius in some areas, officials warned residents to be on high alert.
“The firefront has been spreading very quickly and intensely,” NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told reporters in Sydney, adding that two firefighters had been airlifted to hospital with burns to their faces and airways. “It’s still a very difficult and dangerous set of circumstances.”
NSW Premier’s Message
Days out from Christmas, a time when many Australians head to the coast for the holidays, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian advised people to make sure “you are prepared to change your plans should circumstances change.”
In Shoalhaven, a popular coastal destination some 190 km south of Sydney, local mayor Amanda Findley said people were poised to evacuate.
“There is a large amount of smoke looming over the city, which shows how close the fire is,” Findley told Reuters by telephone. “It is extremely hot and windy now so we are all worried the fire could spread. People are really worried that they may lose everything.”
The RFS posted footage on its official Twitter account showing firefighters tackling one of the three blazes ringing Sydney. A waterbomber aircraft was dwarfed by thick grey and black billowing cloud as it attempted to douse flames in bushland just meters away from homes.
Australia has been battling wildfires across much of its east coast for weeks, leaving six people dead, more than 680 homes destroyed and nearly 3 million acres (1.2 million hectares) of bushland burnt. Berejiklian said as many as 40 homes had been destroyed on Thursday.
Colin Packham and Wayne Cole contributed to this report.