Updated Jan 23, 2020

Australia fires: 3 U.S. firefighters killed in NSW air tanker crash

People embrace at Numeralla Rural Fire Brigade near the scene of a water tanker plane crash near Cooma in southern New South Wales, Australia, on Thursday. Photo: Mark Evans/Getty Images

Three U.S. firefighters have died after a New South Wales Rural Fire Service air tanker crashed while fighting bushfires in the Australian state's Snowy Mountains, authorities confirmed at a news conference Thursday.

Details: NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the Lockheed C-130 Hercules, operated by the Canadian company Coulson Aviation, crashed near Cooma in the southern part of the state. NSW RFS commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said, "Initial reports are there was a large fireball associated with the impact of the plane as it hit the ground."

The big picture: Fitzsimmons said the fire some 70 miles south of the nation's capital, Canberra, was one of more than 80 burning in the state, some out of control. Multiple bushfires were burning across Australia amid searing heat that topped 100°F in some places.

What happened: The fire chief said authorities lost contact with the plane just before 1:30pm local time as it flew over the Snowy Monaro area amid hot, dry and windy conditions.

  • "We've seen smoke and we've seen dust across the area," he said. "It was another very difficult, aggressive fire weather day, which resulted in so many of these fires spreading and breaking out."
  • Coulson Aviation has grounded the large air tankers as a precaution, pending review, and the firm's owners were on their way to Australia, Fitzsimmons said.
  • There's no indication of what caused the crash, but authorities were investigating, he added.
  • Authorities were contacting the victims' family members.
"Our hearts are with all those that are suffering what is the loss of three remarkable, well-respected crew that have invested so many decades of their life into firefighting."
— Shane Fitzsimmons

Go deeper: Australia's deadly fires: What you need to know

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

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Australia honors U.S. airmen who died fighting fires

A memorial for the U.S. crew who died in the fiery crash in Australia's Snowy Mountains. Photo: New South Wales Rural Fire Service/Twitter

A memorial service was held at the Royal Australian Air Force base in Richmond, New South Wales, Thursday for three members of a U.S. aircrew who died while fighting bushfires when their air tanker crashed in the state's Snowy Mountains last week.

The big picture: Capt. Ian MacBeth, First Officer Paul Clyde Hudson, and Flight Engineer Rick DeMorgan Jr. died last Thursday when the Lockheed C-130 Hercules, operated by the Canadian company Coulson Aviation, crashed in the Snowy Mountains. A crowdfunding page to support their families had raised nearly $20,000 by 1:15am ET Thursday.

Go deeper: Australia's deadly fires: What you need to know

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Australia's deadly fires: What you need to know

The Australian flag flies under red skies from fires on Jan. 4 in Bruthen, Victoria. Photos: Darrian Traynor/Getty Images

The Orroral Valley fire has burned through nearly 25% of the district that's home to Australia's capital, News.com.au reports, after ACT Emergency Controller Georgeina Whelan said the fire was rapidly growing into the south east on Saturday.

The latest: The Orroral fire grew from 81,544 acres to at least 129,073 acres on Saturday, based on Whelan's initial statement, and ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr's following estimate. Whelan said the Orroral fire is expected to move "well into" New South Wales, which creates potential for it to reach and merge with other bushfires in the area.

In photos: Australia endures floods, dust storms and brown rain as fires rage

Workers clean a court after overnight rain on day four of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne Thursday morning local time. Photo: William West/AFP via Getty Images

Soaring temperatures in the Australian state of New South Wales of over 100°F have triggered fresh bushfires, while dust has produced brown rain in Victoria.

What's happening: Dust storms have been pummeling parts of southeast Australia for days. A massive bushfire in the Australian Capital Territory impacted flights at Canberra Airport, where hail the size of golf balls struck earlier in the week. The storms come days after floods hit southeast Queensland, which has also been impacted by the fires. Here's what's been happening, in photos.

See photosArrowUpdated Jan 23, 2020