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Toddler son of volunteer firefighter killed battling Australia bushfires receives father's posthumous awards at funeral

Geoffrey Keaton's toddler son received his father's posthumous award. Credit: Twitter/NSW Rural Fire Service

The toddler son of a volunteer firefighter who died battling Australia's bushfires just days before Christmas has received a bravery award on his father's behalf.

Sucking a dummy, Geoffrey Keaton's son, Harvey, watched as the posthumous Commendations for Bravery and Service were pinned to his miniature fire and rescue shirt by Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons at his father's funeral.

Mr Keaton was killed on December 19 while firefighting in New South Wales (NSW), Australia's most populous state.

The 32-year-old died alongside fellow volunteer firefighter, 36-year-old Andrew O'Dwyer, when a tree fell and caused their truck to roll off the road.

Both men died at the scene while three other firefighters were injured and taken to hospital.

In total, at least 18 people have died since the fires began burning in September.

Geoffrey Keaton's funeral was held in Sydney. Credit: Twitter/NSW Rural Fire Service

The deaths of the two men caused Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to cut short his family holiday to Hawaii - something he had come under criticism for while the fire burnt.

Mr Morrison returned to Sydney two days after the deaths, at the time saying: "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."

He added he had been receiving "regular updates" while he was away and had not wanted to disappoint his children by cancelling the planned holiday.

Geoffrey Keaton was killed when the fire truck he was in rolled over. Credit: Twitter/NSW Rural Fire Service

Also on Thursday, NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian declared a seven-day state of emergency starting on Friday morning, granting the fire commissioner more control and power.

It is the third state of emergency for NSW in the past two months, after previously not being implemented since 2013.

It came as thousands of tourists continued to flee Australia's wildfire-ravaged eastern coast and the military started evacuations further south.

Cooler weather since Tuesday has aided firefighting and allowed people to replenish supplies, but high temperatures and strong winds are expected to increase and worsen conditions at the weekend.

"There is every potential that the conditions on Saturday will be as bad or worse than we saw (on Tuesday)," NSW Rural Fire Service Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers said.

A mug reading: 'Daddy I love you to the moon and back' was placed on Geoffrey Keaton's coffin. Credit: Twitter/NSW Rural Fire Service

Authorities said 381 homes had been destroyed on the New South Wales southern coast this week and at least eight people have died this week in the state and neighboring Victoria, Australia's two most-populous states, where more than 200 fires are currently burning.

New South Wales authorities in the morning ordered tourists to leave a 155-mile (250-kilometer) zone along the picturesque south coast.

State Transport Minister Andrew Constance said it is the "largest mass relocation of people out of the region that we've ever seen".

Geoffrey Keaton was killed alongside another volunteer firefighter, Andrew O'Dwyer. Credit: Twitter/NSW Rural Fire Service

In Victoria, where 68 homes have burned this week, the military was helping thousands of people who fled to the shore as a wildfire threatened their homes on Tuesday in the coastal town of Mallacoota.

Food, water, fuel and medical expertise were being delivered and about 500 people were going to be evacuated from the town by a naval ship.

"We think around 3,000 tourists and 1,000 locals are there.

"Not all of those will want to leave, not all can get on the vessel at one time," Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Fire service members salute Geoffrey Keaton's coffin as it passes them. Credit: Twitter/NSW Rural Fire Service

The early and devastating start to Australia's summer wildfires has led authorities to rate this season the worst on record.

About 5 million hectares (12.35 million acres) of land have burned, with at least 17 people dead and more than 1,300 homes destroyed.

Mr Morrison said the crisis was likely to last for months.

"It (fires) will continue to go on until we can get some decent rain that can deal with some of the fires that have been burning for many, many months," the PM said.

Hundreds of members of the fire and rescue service attended the funeral. Credit: Twitter/NSW Rural Fire Service

Smoke from the wildfires made the air quality in the national capital, Canberra, the world's worst in a ranking index Thursday and was blowing into New Zealand.

Meteorologists say a climate system in the Indian Ocean, known as the dipole, is the main driver behind the extreme heat in Australia.

However, many parts of the country have been in drought conditions, some for years, which has made it easier for the fires to spread and grow.

A guard of honour lines the route to the funeral service. Credit: Twitter/NSW Rural Fire Service

The unprecedented conditions has reignited debate on whether Australia's conservative government has taken enough action on climate change.

Australia is the world's largest exporter of coal and liquefied natural gas.

Members of NSW Rural Fire and Rescue Service travel to the funeral. Credit: Twitter/NSW Rural Fire Service