Australians are mourning the loss of a volunteer firefighter and father-to-be who died while battling intense wildfires.
Samuel McPaul died on Dec. 30 at the Green Valley fire ground in New South Wales after his truck “was involved in a rollover caused by extreme winds associated with the fire,” the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) confirmed.
McPaul, a 28-year-old member of Morven Rural Fire Brigade, was the only fatality in the incident, while two other firefighters suffered non-life threatening injuries, the RFS said.
Making the loss even more devastating, the service revealed that McPaul’s wife Megan is pregnant with their first child, who is due in May.
“This is a devastating loss to Samuel’s family and his broader NSW RFS family,” the service wrote. “Samuel was a young man with his whole future ahead of him… The young couple were in the midst of preparations to welcome their baby and Megan is now facing parenthood without Samuel.”
“This is another confronting reality of the ever-present dangers faced by our firefighters, who give so much to protect property and lives, and our collective hearts are breaking,” the service added.
The #NSWRFS firefighter killed at the Green Valley Fire, east of Albury is Samuel McPaul from the Morven Brigade in the Southern Border Team. Today Service flags will be flown at half-mast as a mark of respect.— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) December 30, 2019
Our thoughts are with Sam’s family, friends & fellow Brigade members. pic.twitter.com/co28qXK1E6
At a media conference shortly after the tragedy, RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said local fire crews described the scene as “truly horrific” and like a “fire tornado” with “cyclonic winds”.
“[The winds] moved across the fire ground and lifted up a 10-12-ton fire truck and flipped it on the roof, trapping the people inside and tragically killing Sam in the process,” Fitzsimmons said, according to Huffington Post.
The driver was taken to hospital with injuries but was released shortly after, Fitzsimmons confirmed. The other firefighter was suffering from serious injuries, including burns, and transported to the Prince Alfred Hospital in Melbourne.
While remembering McPaul, the Fitzsimmons called him “a much loved and respected local firefighter” and said his family was struggling to cope with the unimaginable loss.
“As you would expect, the family is grieving and it’s been a very difficult night,” Fitzsimmons said, according to Huffington Post. “Megan and Sam have been married now for nearly 18 months, they were married only in April of 2018, so we’ve got a completely devastated family, a devastated local community at has been an extraordinary loss.”
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To help McPaul’s family in the wake of the incident, the RFS said they were creating a dedicated bank account to collect donations for Megan to help provide for the couple’s unborn child.
The service is also collecting funds for two other firefighters, Geoffrey Keaton and Andrew O’Dwyer, both young fathers.
Like McPaul, Keaton, 32, and O’Dwyer, 36, lost their lives on duty. The two firefighters were battling fires near Buxton, New South Wales when a tree fell down at the scene, causing their truck to roll off the road and ultimately killing them.
Funerals were recently held for both men, with O’Dwyer’s 20-month-old daughter Charlotte wearing his helmet and refusing to leave his side at the service.
Since September, at least 25 people have been killed while a whopping 12 million acres have been wiped out, destroying hundreds of homes and buildings. A seven-day state of emergency was declared on Dec. 23.
Ecologists from the University of Sydney believe 800 million total mammals, birds and reptiles have died in the state of New South Wales since September, professor Chris Dickman told the outlet. That massive number includes a third of the New South Wales koala population, and fatalities are only expected to increase.