Australia fires – ‘World’s biggest’ megafire the size of Belgium kills two as blazes merge in record 44C heatwave

TWO volunteer firefighters were killed battling Australia's wildfires as infernos continue to rage and merge, torching an area the size of Belgium.

Geoffrey Keaton, 32, and Andrew O'Dwyer, 36 – both dads to young children – died when their truck hit a fallen tree while fighting blazes south of Sydney.

Three other firefighters were treated for burns as the blistering 44C heatwave reached a new crisis point, melting roads and destroying more than 800 homes.

So far, the widespread wildfires have burned through at least three million hectares in the eastern states of Queensland and New South Wales.

Mr Keaton and Mr O'Dwyer, both Rural Fire Service volunteers, were killed just before midnight on Thursday when their truck rolled off the road after being  as they travelled in a convoy near Buxton.

The two men were hailed heroes by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who was relaxing on is holiday in Hawaii as his country burned.

Mr O'Dwyer posted an Instagram picture showing the convoy on his night shift – just before the tragic accident.

RFS commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said Mr Keaton’s family had a tradition of volunteering and his father had been out fighting the Gospers Mountain blaze when he lost his son.

Mr Fitzsimmons said they were “well-respected” and from a “close-knit brigade”.

He added: “They work together, socialise together, they’re very interactive together. Their respective partners and wives shared a lot in common with their camaraderie and connection with the brigade.

“Geoff has a young son Harvey, and Andrew has a young daughter Charlotte, and both of those children were born two days apart back in May so they’re 19 months of age, which just terrible.”


Mr Fitzsimmons said the families were in “extraordinary shock”, reports

In an emotional press conference today, Emergency Services Minister David Elliott described it as a “real tragedy”.

He said: “This really is a black arm band day for the Rural Fire Service, indeed the entire firefighting fraternity.

“The loss of these two young men, just dads from western Sydney, is a real tragedy.

“The commissioner is ensuring that all of these firefighters and their families receive the welfare and support that they deserve and I know it’s what the community will demand.

“I appeal to all firefighters to carry on their duties in the memory of those lost overnight and I join the Premier in making sure the state provides every level of respect and support that the families require.

“I’m very confident that those firefighters’ families will find themselves wrapped around with love and that is only appropriate.”

Meanwhile, pressure had been building on Scott Morrison over his holiday as millions of people choked on toxic smoke in Sydney and exhausted firefighters battled on.

The loss of these two young men, just dads from western Sydney, is a real tragedy

In a statement issued today, Morrison said: "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."

He added he would be returning to Australia as soon as possible "given the most recent tragic events".

His comments came as a little girl in Australia burst into tears as a heavy-handed cop warned that "force may be used" to arrest and remove her from a climate protest.

The over-the-top response was caught on video outside Morrison's home.

Scared Issey, 10, was protesting alongside her dad outside Kirribilli House, in Sydney.

While she was clutching a climate sign saying: "Look at what you've left us, watch us fight it, watch us win," an officer stooped towards her.

He threatened: "I warn you, should you fail to comply with my direction you may be arrested, force may be used.

"Do you understand Issey?"

The tearful girl replied "yes" before moving away with her protective dad.

Among those arrested at the rally was Greens MP David Shoebridge, who tweeted: "Arrested and charged with failure to comply with a move-on direction.

"Welcome to NSW policing Coalition-style."

The fire that O'Dwyer and Keaton were fighting was still raging on Friday morning and conditions are due to worsen on Saturday.

More than 100 fires are burning in New South Wales, the most populous state in Australia.

A state of emergency was declared in New South Wales on Thursday because of the "catastrophic" conditions.

Elsewhere in Australia, more than 70 fires are burning across Queensland, the north-eastern state.

Bushfires are also burning in Western Australia and South Australia.

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Australia saw a record a national maximum temperature of 41.9 degrees Celsius (107.4 degrees Fahrenheit) on Wednesday. This was a full degree higher than the previous record set just one day earlier.

Until this week, the record high had been 40.3 C in January 2013.

In some parts of Australia the temperature neared 50C, and the heatwave was expected to continue into the weekend.

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