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 over 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 declared a seven-day state of emergency Thursday as around 2,000 firefighters battle 100 wildfires across the state. Around 7.4 million acres has burned 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 107, beating the landmark set a day earlier by one degree.
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.