Children whose hero dads died battling bushfires share teddy bear in emotional NSW state memorial

Bound by tragedy: Children whose hero dads both died battling blazes share a teddy bear during emotional state memorial service honouring the 25 people killed this bushfire season

  • Children of two volunteer firefighters killed in December have united in Sydney
  • Geoffrey Keaton and Andrew O’Dwyer lost their lives when a tree hit their tanker
  • Pair were part of a four-truck convoy on its way to battle an out-of-control blaze 
  • Public state memorial held on Sunday to recognise toll of unprecedented fires

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The infant children of two volunteer firefighters killed during Australia’s horror bushfire season shared a teddy bear during a poignant memorial service.

The public state memorial at Sydney Olympic Park was held on Sunday to recognise the devastating toll of the unprecedented bushfires that ripped through New South Wales.

Thousands of homes have been damaged or destroyed and 25 people have died in the NSW bushfires since October.

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Harvey Keaton, son of RFS volunteer Geoffrey Keaton, and Charlotte O’Dwyer, daughter of volunteer Andrew O’Dwyer shared a teddy bear during the Bushfire State Memorial at Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney on Sunday

Children whose hero dads died battling bushfires share teddy bear in emotional NSW state memorial

RFS volunteer Geoffrey Keaton’s son Harvey and his truck-mate Andrew O’Dwyer’s daughter Charlotte shared a touching moment as they held hands at the service

Children whose hero dads died battling bushfires share teddy bear in emotional NSW state memorial

The loved ones of victims of the Australian bushfire crisis inspect a tribute during the state memorial on Sunday.

Each candle represented a person killed during the 2019-20 bushfire season

RFS volunteer Geoffrey Keaton’s son Harvey and his truck-mate Andrew O’Dwyer’s daughter Charlotte shared a touching moment as they united during an emotional service at Qudos Bank Arena.

Mr Keaton and Mr O’Dwyer died on December 19 when a tree hit their tanker in Buxton south-west of Sydney.

The pair were part of a four-truck convoy on their way to battle an out-of-control blaze. 

Samuel McPaul, 28, meanwhile died on December 30 when the truck he was travelling in crashed east of Albury. 

NSW Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons says each death serves as a tragic reminder of the horror summer.

‘Each one of those is a story of grief, of profound loss, and great sadness, of lives cut short, and of families being changed forever,’ he told the memorial.

Children whose hero dads died battling bushfires share teddy bear in emotional NSW state memorial

Harvey Keaton and Charlotte O’Dwyer play together at the service at Sydney’s Olympic Park on Sunday

Children whose hero dads died battling bushfires share teddy bear in emotional NSW state memorial

Pictured: Melissa and Charlotte O’Dwyer.

Her father was part of a four-truck convoy on its way to battle an out-of-control blaze

Children whose hero dads died battling bushfires share teddy bear in emotional NSW state memorial

Jess Keaton with her son Harvey in her arms on Sunday. Prime Minister Scott Morrison spoke of a black summer underscored by unrelenting grief

Children whose hero dads died battling bushfires share teddy bear in emotional NSW state memorial

Fire boots representing the six RFS and Coulson Aviation firefighters killed in the recent bush fire on stage during the Bushfire State Memorial

Children whose hero dads died battling bushfires share teddy bear in emotional NSW state memorial

NSW Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said each death was a reminder of a horrific summer for bushfires

Children whose hero dads died battling bushfires share teddy bear in emotional NSW state memorial

‘We are truly blessed you’ve made the effort to be here today,’ Mr Fitzsimmons told attendees at the memorial

‘To the families and loved ones of those that have been lost, and who are here today, we know your hearts have been broken over recent months and we are truly blessed you’ve made the effort to be here today.’

Firefighting crews from across the state were among the hundreds of people who travelled to Sydney’s Qudos Bank Arena for the memorial.

Six sets of boots were symbolically placed at the memorial for the three American airmen who died in a firefighting plane crash near Cooma and the three RFS volunteers who died fighting fires.

Children whose hero dads died battling bushfires share teddy bear in emotional NSW state memorial

Geoffrey Keaton, 32, died when his fire truck rolled while battling the large Green Wattle Creek blaze near the town of Buxton

Children whose hero dads died battling bushfires share teddy bear in emotional NSW state memorial

Andrew O’Dwyer (pictured with his daughter Charlotte) also died in the crash on December 19 last year

Children whose hero dads died battling bushfires share teddy bear in emotional NSW state memorial

 Samuel McPaul, 28, (pictured with his wife Megan) died on December 30 when the truck he was travelling in crashed east of Albury

The three Americans killed were captain Ian McBeth, first officer Paul Clyde Hudson and flight engineer Rick DeMorgan Jr.

They lost their lives when their C130 water-bombing tanker crashed northeast of Cooma on January 23. 

‘They were selfless individuals, paying the ultimate price while simply serving and protecting others in their local community and communities much further afield,’ Mr Fitzsimmons said.

Children whose hero dads died battling bushfires share teddy bear in emotional NSW state memorial

Captain Ian H.

McBeth was among the three American airmen who died in a firefighting plane crash near Cooma in southern NSW on January 23

Children whose hero dads died battling bushfires share teddy bear in emotional NSW state memorial Children whose hero dads died battling bushfires share teddy bear in emotional NSW state memorial

Flight Engineer Rick DeMorgan Jr, from Florida was also on board and is survived by two sons 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison spoke of a black summer underscored by unrelenting grief and children kissing their fathers’ coffins.

‘In every case, our firefighters confronted the fire by relying on the love that was behind them,’ he told the memorial.

‘We’ve lost firefighters, aviators, farmers, and civilians alike this summer. All carried within them, even until the end, the DNA of our universal language – I love you.’

2019/2020 FIRE SEASON DEATH TOLL

The national death toll of Australia’s 2019/2020 bushfire season was 33 as of Monday, February 3, with 25 confirmed deaths in New South Wales, three in South Australia and five in Victoria. 

OCTOBER

New South Wales: 

Robert Lindsey, 77, and Gwen Hyde, 68, were found in their burned out Coongbar home near Casino on October 9th. 

NOVEMBER

New South Wales:

The body of 85-year-old George Nole was found in a burnt out car near his home in Wytaliba, near Glen Innes.

Vivian Chaplain, a 69-year-old woman from Wytaliba, succumbed to her injuries in hospital after attempting in vain to save her home and animals from the blaze.

The body of 63-year-old Julie Fletcher was pulled from a scorched building in Johns River, north of Taree. 

Barry Parsons, 58, was found in a shed at Willawarrin, near Kempsey.

Chris Savva, 64, died after his 4WD overturned near burnt-out South Arm bridge, near Nambucca Heads.

A 59-year-old man was founded sheltered in a Yarrowitch water tank on November 7. He died of injuries on December 29.  

Victoria: 

David Moresi, 69, died after being involved in a traffic incident while working at the at the Gelantipy fire in East Gippsland on November 30. 

DECEMBER

New South Wales:   

Firefighters Andrew O’Dwyer, 36, and Geoffrey Keaton, 32, died on December 19 after a tree fell on their truck while they were travelling through Buxton, south of Sydney.

Samuel McPaul, 28, was battling a blaze in Jingellic, in Green Valley, about 70km east of Albury on the border of NSW and Victoria, on December 30 when a ‘fire tornado’ caused his 10-tonne firetruck to roll. 

South Australia:

The body of 69-year-old Ron Selth was found in his Charleston home, which was destroyed by the Cudlee Creek blaze on December 21. 

NEW YEAR’S EVE FIRES 

New South Wales: 

Dairy farmer Patrick Salway, 29, and his father Robert, 63, died trying to save their property in Cobargo, near Bega, on December 31. 

A 70-year-old man, named by local media as Laurie Andrew, was found dead outside a home at Yatte Yattah, west of Lake Conjola.

The body of a 70-year-old man was found in a burnt vehicle on a road off the Princes Highway at Yatte Yattah on the morning of New Year’s Day.

The body of a 62-year-old man was found in a vehicle on Wandra Road at Sussex Inlet about 11.30am on New Year’s Day.

A body, believed to be a 56-year-old man, found outside a home at Coolagolite, east of Cobargo on New Year’s Day.

An off-duty RFS firefighter, believed to be 72-year-old Colin Burns, was found near a car in Belowra after the New Year’s Eve fires swept through. 

Victoria: 

Beloved great-grandfather Mick Roberts, 67, from Buchan, in East Gippsland, was found dead at his home on the morning of New Year’s Day. 

Fred Becker, 75, was the second person to die in Victoria.

He suffered a heart attack while trying to defend his Maramingo Creek home.

JANUARY

New South Wales:

David Harrison, a 47-year-old man from Canberra, suffered a heart attack defending his friend’s home near Batlow on Saturday, January 4. 

A 71-year-old man was found on January 6. Police have been told the man was last sighted on December 31, 2019 and was moving equipment on his property in Nerrigundah.

An 84-year-old man who stayed to defend his home in Cobargo, NSW, dies in hospital three weeks after fire hit. His pet dog Bella, who stayed by his side as fires raged, was also killed in the disaster.

Three American firefighters are killed when Coulson Aviation C-130 Hercules water bomber Zeus crashed while fighting fires near Cooma on Thursday January 23. They have been named as Capt.

Ian H. McBeth, 44, First Officer Paul Clyde Hudson and Flight Engineer Rick A. DeMorgan Jr, 43.

On January 24, Michael Clark, 59, was found in a Bodalla home destroyed by bushfires near the NSW South Coast town of Moruya. 

Victoria:

Forest Fire Management firefighter Mat Kavanagh, 43, was killed Friday January 3 when he was involved in a two-car crash on the Goulburn Valley Highway.

Bill Slade, a 60-year-old father of two from Wonthaggi was fighting fires with Parks Victoria at Omeo when he died on January 11.

He has been remembered as one of the longest serving, most experienced and fittest firefighters.  

South Australia: 

Well-known outback pilot Dick Lang, 78, and his 43-year-old son, Adelaide surgeon Clayton Lang, died in the Kangaroo Island bushfire after their car was trapped by flames.  

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