Two schoolgirls have penned a touching tribute to selfless firefighters as Australia grieves two volunteers and another lost ahead of “catastrophic” weather in NSW and bushfires burning in four states.
Exhausted, determined and heartbroken volunteers face a weekend of unrelenting conditions, battling ravaging heat while also contending with fire threats imposed by cool changes.
Another person was killed on Friday in a car accident linked to the bushfire crisis in South Australia on the same day the nation mourned the loss of two firefighters who died on the frontline in NSW, bringing the death toll to nine.
Geoffrey Keaton, 32, and Andrew O’Dwyer, 36, were both fathers who volunteered with the Horsley Park brigade.
They were tragically killed when a burning gumtree fell onto their tanker, causing them to veer and roll, as they were travelling in a convoy near the town of Buxton late on Thursday night.
The fatal incident left local crews “gutted”, said Buxton RFS station volunteer Peter Lockerbie, who’s been with the Bundanoon RFS for 10 years.
“Everyone’s sort of feeling it,” Mr Lockerbie said.
“Today with the fire activity not being nearly as intense as yesterday, it’s allowed us to have a chat with each other about it and share our thoughts.
“It gives us time to reflect on what happened … because tomorrow when things start off again we need to be on our A-game.”
As firefighters soldier on, Hailey and Casey, both 11 years old, from Riverwood in NSW, have paid tribute to the selfless men and women fighting “to save OUR Christmas”.
Part of the touching two-page poem reads:
“They have a heart that pumps for this country
A strength that’s rarely seen
It’s a selfless act to put your life
On the line, as we’ve all seen
They won’t be home for Christmas
They won’t get the family feed
No break, no rest, no knock-off time
They won’t leave til they succeed
They will fight to save OUR Christmas
Our homes, our life, our land
While losing their own properties, they continue to take a stand”
A touching tribute to firefighters who have been battling against mother nature for many months now here in NSW. A very nice poem written by 11 year old's Hailee and Casey from Riverwood in NSW. Thank you girls, this is beautiful ❤️ #NSWRFS #nswfires pic.twitter.com/vPjIgsyrDF
— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) December 20, 2019
Weekend bushfire threats
Fire crews across four states face varying degrees of danger, as hot blasts and cool changes wreck havoc.
NSW: NSW is expecting “catastrophic” conditions on Saturday, with most of the state reaching temperatures in the mid-40s ahead of a cool southerly change sweeping up the coast, hitting Sydney between 2pm and 6pm.
Hot gusty winds and high temperatures fanning flames make it a “fairly sure thing” that more homes will be lost, authorities have warned.
Catastrophic conditions are forecast for Greater Sydney, Illawarra/Shoalhaven and the southern ranges while the Greater Hunter and central ranges will experience extreme fire danger.
Residents have been advised to delay Christmas travel plans until at least Sunday.
Part of the Princes Highway on the South Coast will be closed near Ulladulla, and the RFS said there’s a “fair chance” the Hume Highway will also be affected.
The most concerning fires are the Gospers Mountain mega-fire northwest of Sydney and the Green Wattle Creek blaze southwest of Sydney.
A statewide total fire ban remains in place due to ongoing hot, dry and windy conditions. Catastrophic fire danger is forecast for Greater Sydney, Illawarra/Shoalhaven and the Southern Ranges today. A number of large fires are already burning in some of these areas. #nswrfs pic.twitter.com/CR2WIGvw9D
— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) December 20, 2019
SA: Bushfires in South Australia, which was ravaged on Friday and experienced a scorching 49.2-degree day at the town of Keith, are expected to burn for days.
Hundreds of firefighters have been battling a major bushfire in the Adelaide Hills, backed by water-bombing aircraft.
Several homes have been destroyed at towns including Lobethal and Woodside with a watch and act advice still in place early on Saturday.
Near the Lameroo fire, which has been downgraded, one person died when a car slammed into a tree.
VIC: An expected cool change overnight could bring strong winds and dry lightning, sparking new fires.
Two Victorian towns hit 47.9 degrees on Friday, making it Victoria’s hottest day on record.
Residents in Amphitheatre, Chute, Langi Kal Kal, Mount Lonarch and Waterloo have been told it is too late to leave as a bushfire pushes towards their houses.
Those in neighbouring Lexton were told to evacuate.
A similar warning for Bamganie, Shelford, Teesdale – about 40 kilometres northwest of Geelong, was downgraded to a watch-and-act warning.
In the east of the state, three fires in the East Gippsland region also continued to burn.
QLD: Queensland firefighters will breathe a short sigh of relief with conditions easing on Saturday ahead of another heatwave on Sunday affecting inland regions including the Darling Downs, Granite Belt, Central Highlands and Coalfields.
The weather bureau predicts fire danger levels to then fall to their lowest level on Christmas Eve.
Green Wattle Creek
Residents and firefighters near one of the worst ongoing blazes at Green Wattle Creek are preparing to face down the fire for another day.
Buxton south local Jeff Van Der Korput spent his 34th birthday on Thursday defending properties in the suburb from the firestorm with a homemade water tanker.
Equipped with a 2000 litre petrol water pump he fought off a grass fire on his neighbour’s property and saved a ringtail possum by putting it inside a hat.
“The (Rural Fire Service) was tied up and I built (the water pump) two years ago because I was getting worried about how dry it was and we’ve had to use it,” Mr Van Der Korput said.
With no power and very little water coming from the mains, Mr Van der Korput said he was feeling “very uneasy” about conditions on Saturday.
“It’s hot, it’s windy, these fires just here are starting out of nothing again from yesterday, all we can do is just sit here and be prepared…we don’t have the ability to do much.”