It Took Hundreds of Fires, 3 Broken Heat Records, and 2 Dead Firefighters to Get Australia's Prime Minister Home From Vacation

Scott Morrison apologized for his absence, but said that he's not the one holding a hose.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison briefs the media following meetings in Sydney

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison issued a rare public apology and said he’d return from his vacation in Hawaii after two volunteer firefighters were killed tackling the wildfires that are raging in the country’s east.

Morrison said he will cut short his family holiday and return to Australia on Saturday as public anger at his absence grew following the deaths of the two volunteer firefighters on Thursday night.


While Morrison was holidaying in Hawaii, the country experienced consecutive days of record-breaking temperatures that have exacerbated already out-of-control wildfires burning around Sydney.

Morrisson, who has been heavily criticized for his absence during the crisis, said he would return to Australia on Saturday morning when conditions are expected to worsen. High winds and soaring temperatures are expected to hit New South Wales once again, creating perfect conditions for the fires to spread, and leading officials to issue “catastrophic” fire danger warnings.

“I think on this occasion because they've been such horrendous events, that it has understandably caused a lot of anxiety and I deeply regret that,” Morrison told Sydney radio 2GB on Friday, adding: “I don't hold a hose and I don't sit in a control room. The brave people who do that are doing that job. But I know that Australians would want me back at this time, following these fatalities.”

Morrison’s apology came hours after two volunteer firefighters died tackling the Green Wattle Creek blaze on Thursday night, with three more suffering serious injuries.

The Rural Fire Service (RFS) named the two as Geoffrey Keaton, 32, and Andrew O’Dwyer, 36, from the Horsley Park brigade. Keaton and O’Dwyer, who were both fathers of young children, were in a truck convoy near the town of Buxton south-west of Sydney late on Thursday when a tree fell into their path, causing their vehicle to roll off the road.


Keaton’s father John was fighting another blaze threatening the northwest of the city when he heard news of his son’s death.

READ: Australia keeps smashing heat records as fires rage

“These men and women, our volunteers, are remarkable individuals,” RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said on Friday. “They’re ordinary, everyday individuals like you and I that go out and simply want to serve and protect and make a difference in their local community and they don’t ever go out in the knowledge that they might not come home.”

Conditions for the firefighters tackling the more than 100 fires burning across New South Wales are set to get much worse on Saturday, when temperatures are expected to soar once again.

Tuesday and Wednesday saw Australia record its two hottest days on record, while Thursday saw the Nullarbor station on the South Australian coast hit 121.8 Fahrenheit, the highest temperature ever recorded in December anywhere in the world. Forecasters are predicting a combination of extreme temperatures and blustery conditions will return on Saturday, and fire chiefs on Friday predicted the number of buildings damaged by the fires will climb.

READ: Australia is battling some of the most dangerous wildfires it's ever seen

“I think it’s a fairly sure thing that we’ll lose homes somewhere tomorrow, it will be a miracle if we didn’t,” said Rural Fire Service Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers.

Authorities are warning those planning to travel for the holidays on Saturday to hold off for a day or two, as conditions will be hazardous.

“Yesterday we saw trained firefighters who had the right equipment and training, they got burnt and overrun in these fires," he said. “We are very lucky we did not see serious casualties from the public yesterday and we don't want to see that tomorrow. If you have any doubts in your mind that you are in a bushfire-prone area, do not be there.”

Cover: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison briefs the media in Sydney, Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)