Three American firefighters lost their lives Thursday in the crash of a tanker plane deployed to fight the wildfires raging in Australia, on a day marked by new alerts in the wake of high temperatures.
Authorities lost contact with the aircraft, a C-130 Hercules, while it was flying over the Snowy Monaro area south of Canberra during fire-fighting operations.
Authorities said there were no survivors in the accident and noted that this is an example of the harsh conditions faced by firefighters.
“We are saddened by the loss of three international firefighters in a tragic accident today in NSW (New South Wales). Our hearts go out to their loved ones. They were helping Australia, far from their homes, the epitome of friendship that extends across the world,” Australian Foreign Minister Marise Paine said on Twitter.
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These deaths bring to 32 the number of people killed by fires across the country, which since September have ravaged land the size of Syria (180,000 square kilometers).
On Thursday, Australian authorities also announced the closure and cancellation of all flights to and from Canberra Airport, the country’s ninth-largest airport by the number of passengers, following a nearby outbreak.
The present-day is marked by the rise in temperatures, which in some points exceed 40 degrees, and the activation of new alerts for fire danger. In the region of Sydney, where the thermometers reached 41 degrees, there are fears of intense heat, strong winds and potential storms that could aggravate the situation.
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The Meteorological Office of the state of New South Wales, whose capital is Sydney and where 84 bulbs are burning, of which 40 remain out of control, said that strong winds in high mountains “increase the danger of fires. “It’s possible that (the fires) will be ignited or that others will start,” said Shane Fitzsimmons, head of the New South Wales fire department, at a press conference where he stressed the difficulty of the present day.
The forest fires, which have been burning since September and worsened during New Year’s Eve, have already killed 32 people and affected more than a billion animals, as well as burning down more than 2,500 homes.
These fires, which experts say are more intense due to global warming, have emitted 400 megatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere since they started, a value that is equivalent to the country’s average annual emissions, according to the Copernicus monitoring program.
An Australia Institute survey released today revealed that 57 percent of the 24.6 million people felt the impact of the fires and the smoke from them, while 26 percent, representing more than 5 million Australian adults, experienced health problems.
The report also indicates that about 1.8 million people were unable to work because of the fires, a loss in productivity estimated at A$1.3 billion (US$894 million or EUR 806 million).
“Australia is in the grip of a national climate disaster. The social, economic and medical impacts are enormous and are only beginning to become apparent,” said Tom Swann, a senior researcher at the Australia Institute.