Australian bushfires continue to rage as firefighters started the new decade trying to tackle the deadly blazes.
With fireworks welcoming 2020 in Sydney, emergency workers tried to take advantage of better weather conditions on New Year’s Day in rural Australia.
The country’s military has been deployed to help communities affected by the fires, which have killed at least 17 people and forced thousands of residents and visitors to flee to the coast.
Firefighters used the cooler climate on Wednesday to restore critical infrastructure and carry out back burning but conditions are expected to be worse by Saturday.
“There is every potential that the conditions on Saturday will be as bad or worse than we saw yesterday,” said New South Wales Rural Fire Service deputy commissioner Rob Rogers.
ABC News reported that a volunteer firefighter was killed after his truck was flipped by a “fire tornado” in Jingellic, near the border between the states of New South Wales and Victoria.
28-year-old Samuel McPaul had been mustering cattle caught in a paddock.
“The crew decided to move away from that area and, quite unexpectedly, very suddenly, they experienced extreme winds and what could only be described as a fire tornado that lifted the back of the truck, fully inverted it and landed it on its roof, trapping three people, three crew that is, and unfortunately, one of them fatally,” the New South Wales Rural Fire Service district manager Superintendent Patrick Westwood said.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison - who was criticised for going abroad as the wildfires raged - said: “Sam McPaul was a brave firefighter and a member of the Morven Rural Fire Brigade.
“In one of the cruellest developments, Sam and his wife Megan are due to have their first baby next year.
“I cannot imagine the terrible sense of loss and grief that Sam’s family are now feeling.
“I have spoken to Megan to extend my deepest sympathies and our love and support at this terrible time and express that same sentiment on behalf of the entire country. Sam McPaul was the best of us.”
A young father and his father have also been killed trying to protect their property in Wandella, in New South Wales, ABC News reported.
Patrick Salway, 29, and father Robert, 63, were found dead at the burnt-out property.
Patrick’s wife, Renee, wrote on Facebook that her family was “broken”.
“I love you now, I love you still, I always have and I always will,” she said.
“I will see you again Patrick, my best friend.
“Hope you are up there “fixing things in the stars tonight”.”
The Australian Defence Force is using its navy to bring supplies to the coastal town of Mallacoota in a mission that could take two weeks.
Helicopters will also bring in firefighters, with roads in the area having become inaccessible.
More than 100 fires were still burning in New South Wales on Wednesday, though none were at an emergency level.
Residents and visitors were forced onto the beaches, with the sky turned into ominous hues of red and orange.
My brother just sent me this video from yesterday at #MaluaBay where him and the rest of my family were stranded. #AustraliaFires #bushfirecrisis #Southcoastfires #AustraliaBurns #BatemasBay #RFS #NSWbushfires pic.twitter.com/LmZvZxWwrk— Lord of the Blondes (@ek_nicholls) January 1, 2020
Authorities consider this to be the worst summer for wildfires on record, with calls for Scott Morrison’s government to do more to tackle climate change.