MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Firefighters, family and the small Australian town of Holbrook hailed fallen volunteer firefighter Samuel McPaul a hero in a solemn funeral on Friday, as long awaited rains started to extinguish some of the deadly bushfires raging for months.
McPaul, 28, was killed in December battling a massive fire near his hometown of Holbrook in southern New South Wales state.
A total of 29 people and millions of animals have been killed in the fires since September. Fires have destroyed more than 2,500 homes and razed an area roughly a third the size of Germany.
McPaul died when a fire tornado flipped his fire truck.
“Sam was a remarkable young man who lost his life as a hero in his local community,” Shane Fitzsimmons, commissioner of the New South Wales (NSW) Rural Fire Service, said at the funeral.
“He was always willing to put his hand up whenever needed, no matter the occasion.”
McPaul’s widow Megan, who is expecting their first child in May, received a bravery medal on his behalf at the funeral.
Before the ceremony, uniformed firefighters carried his helmet into the service, ABC news reported.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has been heavily criticized for poor leadership during the bushfire crisis, attended the funeral.
Intense thunderstorms with heavy rains dampened some of the bushfires on Australia’s east coast in recent days, but there were still about 100 fires ablaze in New South Wales and Victoria.
Reporting by Lidia Kelly and Paulina Duran; Writing by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Michael Perry