SYDNEY -- Three U.S. firefighters have died after their water-bombing plane crashed while battling a blaze near the Kosciuszko National Park, as Australia's wildfire crisis flares again.
The three were working for Coulson Aviation, which bills itself as the global leader in aerial firefighting, and was contracted by the New South Wales Rural Fire Service to help fight the blazes.
"A large air tanker crashed in the Snowy Monaro region," New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said at a news conference Thursday afternoon. "Our thoughts and prayers and heartfelt condolences go to their families."
Wreckage of the C-130 tanker was found near Cooma, a rural town about 62 miles south of the national capital Canberra, the Sydney Morning Herald reported, citing emergency services. A search started after the plane lost contact about 1:30 p.m. local time.
There's no indication yet of what caused the accident, RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said at the news conference. The plane exploded in a large fireball when it hit the ground, he said.
The fatalities take the death toll from the fires to at least 31.
The unprecedented wildfires have destroyed or damaged more than 3,000 houses, incinerated an area almost the size of England and killed an estimated 1 billion animals.
The return of scorching temperatures and high winds Thursday reignited the fire crisis. More than 80 fires were burning across New South Wales on Thursday afternoon, with emergency warnings in place for four blazes. The temperature topped 106 degrees Fahrenheit in central Sydney earlier in the day.
Flights were earlier suspended at Canberra Airport as fires approached the runway and thick smoke reduced visibility.
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