Charlotte and mother Mel O’Dwyer’s heartbreaking message to arsonists

Charlotte’s brave father died alongside his best mate in Australia’s horror bushfires – now the three-year-old and her mother have a heartbreaking message for arsonists

  • Andrew O’Dwyer and Geoffrey Keaton died when a tree crushed their truck
  • Two best mates were fighting blazes during Australia’s Black Summer in 2019
  • Three-year-old Charlotte O’Dwyer was just 19 months when her father passed
  • While she doesn’t recall memories with dad, she knows of his heroic actions
  • Mel O’Dwyer sent shattering message to people thinking of starting fires

By Manoli Luxford For Daily Mail Australia

Published: 13:58, 13 November 2021 | Updated: 14:06, 13 November 2021

Australia’s Black Summer bushfires – the worst the country has ever seen – will be remembered for devastating a wildlife population, destroying thousands of homes, producing an image of an 11-year-old boy piloting a tinny away from a fiery red coastline and Charlotte O’Dwyer’s dad.

Of all the heartbreaking moments that were witnessed during those months of horror signalling the end of 2019 and the start of 2020, most Australians won’t forget the two young fathers and volunteer firefighters who piled into the back of a truck and never returned home to their families. 

Andrew O’Dwyer, 36, and Geoffrey Keaton, 32, died at the Green Wattle Creek fire near Buxton, NSW, on December 19, 2019 – just a week before Christmas

The best mates were killed when a burnt gum tree slammed into their fire truck while travelling to fight a nearby blaze.  

Now, almost a year on from the tragedy, three-year-old Charlotte and her mother Mel O’Dwyer have shared a heartbreaking message directed at those who deliberately light up the bush for a ‘thrill’ – with a warning about what playing with fire may cost.

Charlotte and mother Mel O'Dwyer's heartbreaking message to arsonists

Andrew O’Dwyer (left) and Geoffrey Keaton (right) were killed when a burnt gum tree slammed into their fire truck while travelling to fight a blaze near Buxton

Charlotte and mother Mel O'Dwyer's heartbreaking message to arsonists

Young Charlotte was just 19 months old when her father sadly passed away but knows of his heroic and brave actions 

Charlotte and mother Mel O'Dwyer's heartbreaking message to arsonists

Allison Marion’s photo of her son Finn fleeing the advancing bushfires in the seaside town of Mallacoota in Victoria’s far east became a symbol of the Black Summer bushfire crisis

Charlotte was just 19 months old when her father Andrew was killed, and while she doesn’t remember much about her dad’s fun-loving nature, she understands why he’s not with her today.

‘The people, ambulance and fire engines couldn’t help him and he had to go up into the sky,’ the young girl told The Saturday Telegraph.  

Mel O’Dwyer said she has been candid with Charlotte about how the Black Summer devastated a nation – and their family.

On October 26 a 13-year-old was allegedly caught deliberately lighting a fire in the western Sydney suburb Doonside, and it caused Ms O’Dwyer to stop and think about the upcoming bushfire season. 

‘I would just say to you to think before you do something like that. You might get a thrill out of it for however long it takes to burn, but for us, we have this hell for a lifetime,’ she said.

‘Sometimes I think to myself how did this happen to me? When I looked at my life I would never picture this.

You fear it happening but never think it will and what makes it worse is so many of these fires that destroy people and lives can be avoided.’ 

Charlotte and mother Mel O'Dwyer's heartbreaking message to arsonists

Mel O’Dwyer said she has been candid with Charlotte about how the Black Summer bushfires devastated a nation – and their family (Pictured: Prime Minister Scott Morrison helps Charlotte from a playground fire truck dedicated to her father) 

Firefighters were called to Western Sydney Parklands at 4pm after there were reports of three different fires that demolished 1.3 hectares of bushland on the same day. 

The teenager is set to face a youth sentencing hearing because of her age and will listen to a panel of firefighters and arson attack victims to appreciate just how problematic her crime was.

She will appear before the court if she doesn’t follow the rehabilitation program or show deep regret over her alleged actions.   

Charlotte and mother Mel O'Dwyer's heartbreaking message to arsonists

Ms O’Dwyer (pictured left) sent a heartbreaking message to those who plan to light up the bush deliberately and told them to think before they act

Ms O’Dwyer has finally come to terms with being at home without Andrew and has started teaching swimming lessons part-time so she can balance taking care of their daughter. 

After the two friends’ tragic deaths, Mr Keaton was remembered at a funeral at Pinegrove Memorial Park in Minchinbury on January 2, 2020. 

Fiancee Jess Hayes and young son Harvey were part of a long procession of fire trucks that drove to the service in tribute to Mr Keaton. 

NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons also honoured Mr Keaton with a Commendation for Bravery and a Commissioner’s Commendation for Service. 

Mr O’Dwyer was remembered at a mass held at Our Lady of Victories in Horsley Park on January 7 2020 – a week after Mr Keaton’s funeral. 

Charlotte and mother Mel O'Dwyer's heartbreaking message to arsonists

On December 5, 2020, Prime Minister Scott Morrison formally opened a commemorative park and children’s playground at Telopea Park in Buxton to honour Mr O’Dwyer and Mr Keaton

Charlotte and mother Mel O'Dwyer's heartbreaking message to arsonists

Pictured: Charlotte and Ms O’Dwyer with Horsley Park RFS Captain Darren Nation

Charlotte and mother Mel O'Dwyer's heartbreaking message to arsonists

Pictured: Ms Keaton receiving a gift from the RFS Commissioner at the Buxton RFS Memorial opening 

A member of the Horsley Park RFS brigade for more than a decade, Mr O’Dwyer was given a guard of honour as his coffin left the requiem mass. 

As the procession made its out of the church grounds, Maori members of the RFS performed an impromptu haka in tribute to their fallen colleague. 

In a lasting tribute to him, a Horsley Park RFS fire truck will forever have ‘in memory of Andrew O’Dwyer’ written on the passenger side door.

While on December 5, 2020, Prime Minister Scott Morrison formally opened a commemorative park and children’s playground at Telopea Park in Buxton to honour the two men.  

Charlotte and mother Mel O'Dwyer's heartbreaking message to arsonists

The 2019/20 fire season brought unprecedented fire activity to southeast Australia, with fires in southern NSW, eastern Victoria and the ACT from October to February (Pictured: Out-of-control Green Wattle Creek bushfire) 

The 2019/20 fire season brought unprecedented fire activity to southeast Australia, with fires in southern NSW, eastern Victoria and the ACT from October to February.

Scientists say the fires were categorically linked to climate change and worsened by a year-long drought, with very dry fuel and hot weather leading to the high fire activity in southeast Australia.

The horror bushfire season killed 33 Australians, and nearly a billion animals as a fifth of the continent’s forests were destroyed.

The tragic fires left over 19 million hectares of land burnt and 3,000 homes destroyed. 

2019/2020 FIRE SEASON DEATH TOLL 

The national death toll of Australia’s 2019/2020 bushfire season was 33, 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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