Scott Morrison had an awkward exchange with residents on Wednesday while touring South Australia’s badly burnt Kangaroo Island, where six bushfires continue to ravage the tourist hotspot.
Large blazes lashed the area last week, scorching more than a third of the island’s total area and killing an estimated 100,000 sheep.
After arriving on the island, the prime minister was met by a crowd of concerned locals.
“Thankfully, we've had no loss of life,” Mr Morrison said to the group, before they reminded him that a father and son had died defending their family property.
The bodies of Dick Lang, a 78-year-old bush pilot, and his 43-year-old son Clayton were discovered on Saturday after family members said they had been battling the blaze for two days.
It is believed the pair were trying to flee when they were suddenly engulfed in flames.
“Two. Yes two, that's quite right. I was thinking about firefighters firstly,” Mr Morrison responded, stumbling over his words.
A spokesperson for Mr Morrison said he was “referring to no loss of life of firefighters” because he was discussing firefighting efforts when the comment was made, according to the ABC.
— The Today Show (@TheTodayShow) January 8, 2020
After speaking with business owners impacted by the bushfire, Mr Morrison encouraged tourists to be patient with affected holiday operators and to “cut them a break” when asking for refunds.
"If you've booked accommodation and you're now seeking a refund, can you cut them a break in terms of, at the very least, on the timing of when you might expect to see a refund," Mr Morrison said.
One-third of the island has been burnt, while the rest remains open for business.
Mr Morrison also said mental health assistance is a priority in the relief effort.
Australian Defence Force psychologists have been deployed across the country to help victims in fire-ravaged areas.
The prime minister confirmed Health Minister Greg Hunt was working on a mental health package.
Federal Emergency Management Minister David Littleproud and the head of the newly-established bushfire recovery agency, Andrew Colvin, are expected to visit Victorian fire-affected communities of Tumut and Sale on Thursday.
Twenty-six people have been killed, millions of hectares have burned and thousands of homes destroyed this bushfire season.
Firefighter organisations have called for a federal royal commission into Australia's bushfires, days after Mr Morrison said he'd consider one.
Do you have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.