AUSTRALIA'S Prime Minister said "I don't hold a hose, mate, and I don't sit in a control room" while on holiday during the country's catastrophic bushfire emergency.
Scott Morrison has had a barrage of criticism for swanning off to Hawaii, where he enjoyed "a few nice days" while deadly fires engulfed hundreds of homes, and claimed lives.
Two volunteer firefighters were killed battling bushfires yesterday, as Australia has been fighting wildfires across three states for weeks.
Geoffrey Keaton, 32, and Andrew O'Dwyer, 36, were in a truck convoy fighting blazes southwest of Sydney when a tree fell and caused the vehicle to roll off the road.
The two men, both dads to 19-month-old children, died at the scene while three other firefighters were injured and taken to a hospital.
Blazes have destroyed more than 700 homes and nearly three million acres (1.2m ha) of bushland.
A crew fighting an inferno near Tahmoor in New South Wales were stunned to stumble upon a cannabis crop sprouting among the undergrowth.
Some areas of Sydney are set for "catastrophic" conditions on Saturday, and the deadly fires are now engulfing other parts of the country.
The fires death toll in New South Wales has jumped to eight since the start of October.
Ten more firefighters were seriously injured on Thursday, with four in South Australia being treated for burns and smoke inhalation.
A heated climate protest outside the home of Scott Morrison while he was on holiday saw a little girl burst into tears when a heavy-handed cop warned that "force may be used" to arrest and remove her.
The over-the-top response – caught on video – was doled out to a scared Issey, 10, who was protesting alongside her dad outside Kirribilli House, in Sydney.
While she was clutching a climate sign saying: "Look at what you've left us, watch us fight it, watch us win," an officer stooped towards her.
He threatened: "I warn you, should you fail to comply with my direction you may be arrested, force may be used.
"Do you understand Issey?"
The tearful girl replied "yes" before moving away with her protective dad.
Among those arrested at the rally was Greens MP David Shoebridge, who tweeted: "Arrested and charged with failure to comply with a move-on direction.
"Welcome to NSW policing Coalition-style."
The trio were among hundreds at the rally, infuriated by the PM's decision to enjoy a sunny Christmas break in Hawaii.
He abandoned the country as people in Sydney are donning breathing masks to cope with toxic, acrid fumes.
And exhausted firefighters are risking their lives trying to save people and property as they bravely battle infernos sweeping the country's east coast.
The PM told radio station 2GB from Hawaii: "I don't hold a hose, mate, and I don't sit in a control room."
He added that he had and his family had "a few nice days here, and that's just where sometimes we go privately for our holidays.
"It's just unfortunate that it's come at such an awful time, particularly for those living in and around Sydney and New South Wales."
Morrison also announced on 2GB that he was cutting his break short as "it's appropriate for me to return now."
I deeply regret any offence caused to any of the many Australians affected by the terrible bushfires by my taking leave with family at this time.
His holiday during the deadly wildfires prompted one Sydney protester – wearing an Hawaiian shirt – to wave a sign reading, "ScoMo, where the bloody hell are you?"
This was in reference to the leader's nickname and a well-known international advertisement plugging tourism in Australia in 2006.
It was headed by swimsuit model Lara Bingle – who was filmed wearing bikinis, emerging from crystal clear water on to an idyllic island – and was presided over by the then MD of Tourism Australia – Scott Morrison.
Lara tweeted to her 107,000 followers: "Scott Morrison: Where the bloody hell are you??? #AustraliaBurns."
There are more than 200 fires burning across Australia – 70 of which are classified as uncontrolled, mostly in NSW.
Outrage over the absent PM has prompted a "rare public apology" from him today, according to Reuters.
Morrison has now decided to cut short his vacation and return home in response to widespread public anger.
He said: "I deeply regret any offence caused to any of the many Australians affected by the terrible bushfires by my taking leave with family at this time."
The fires have resulted in days of heavy pollution throughout Sydney.
Air quality has been pushed to unprecedented hazardous levels and resulted in viral images of heavy smoke haze over the usually sparkling harbour and landmarks like the Opera House.
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The fires are being fuelled by record temperatures across the country which led NSW, the most populous state with seven million people, to declare a seven-day state of emergency.
Australia has sizzled through record-breaking heatwaves this week, reaching an average maximum 41.9C (107.4F) on Wednesday.
The temp smashed its hottest ever day on Tuesday, when it spiked to an average maximum of 40.9C – beating its previous record of 40.3C six years ago.
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