Three American crew members died in Australia after their aerial water tanker crashed while battling the devastating wildfires Thursday.

Coulson Aviation in Oregon confirmed the fatalities in a statement posted on Twitter and said the accident was “extensive.”

According to the company, the C-130 Hercules aerial water tanker departed from Richmond, New South Wales, and was on a firebombing mission in the Snowy Monaro area.

Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said in a news conference Thursday that contact was lost with the aircraft a little before 1:30 p.m. local time, adding that there’s still no indication of what caused the crash.  

“The only thing I have from the field reports are that the plane came down, it’s crashed and there was a large fireball associated with that crash,” he said. “Unfortunately, all we’ve been able to do is locate the wreckage and the crash site and we have not been able to locate any survivors.”

The tragedy brings the death toll from the blazes to at least 31 since September.

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Twitter that flags will fly at half-staff Friday out of respect for the three U.S. firefighters who lost their lives.

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Coulson grounded other firefighting aircrafts as a precaution pending investigation, reducing planes available to firefighters in New South Wales and neighboring Victoria state. The four-propeller Hercules drop more than 4,000 gallons of fire retardant in a single pass.

The Australian fires have destroyed more than 2,600 homes and scorched more than 25.7 million acres, an area bigger than Indiana.

Berejiklian said there were more than 1,700 volunteers and personnel in the field, and five fires were being described at an “emergency warning” level – the most dangerous on a three-tier scale – across the state and on the fringes of the national capital Canberra.

Contributing: The Associated Press. Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.


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