Bushfires death toll rises to 33 after body found in burnt-out house near Moruya

Luke Henriques-Gomes
Photograph: Rick Rycroft/AP

Police say they have found human remains at a burnt-out house near Moruya, a day after devastating fires once again tore through the NSW south coast.

The body, believed to be of a man but not yet identified, was found by police officers on Friday, taking the death toll from the Australian bushfire crisis to 33, a figure that includes 25 victims in NSW.

It comes a day after three American firefighters, identified as captain Ian McBeth, first officer Paul Clyde Hudson and flight engineer Rick DeMorgan Jr, were killed when their C-130 waterbombing aircraft crashed in the Snowy-Monaro region.

On Friday evening, NSW police confirmed they had earlier attended a home at Bodalla, south-west of Moruya, where they found human remains. The home had been completely destroyed.

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“While the body has not yet been formally identified, it is believed to be that of the 59-year-old male occupant,” a police statement said. “Inquiries are continuing and a report will be prepared for the information of the coroner.”

Days after NSW and the ACT was blanketed in heavy rain and hail, dangerous fire conditions returned to NSW on Thursday, with hot, dry temperatures and a subsequent cool change pushing a 240,000ha (600,000 acre) blaze through the south coast towns of Moruya and Bermagui.

The NSW Rural Fire Service has said it was aware of property losses, but the damage has yet to be quantified. More than 2,000 homes have been lost across Australia since the fire crisis began.

As tributes flowed for the three US firefighters killed on Friday, the RFS also confirmed another six volunteer firefighters were hospitalised in a separate incident that saw their truck roll near the Clyde Mountain fire at Eurobodalla. They were taken to hospital with minor injuries.

Meanwhile, aviation authorities confirmed they had grounded all C-130 firefighting aircraft in Australia until further notice.

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NSW Police and the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) are investigating the tragedy, saying it is too early to speculate about what cause the aircraft to crash.

“We understand the aircraft is equipped with a cockpit voice recorder and these mostly recall the last two hours of what happened on the flight deck, so we are most interested and looking for that piece of equipment early in the investigations,” the ATSB’s Greg Hood said.

The families of the three men have been told they can visit the crash site, north-east of Cooma, if they wish.

Authorities said “not much” of the plane was intact and they were still in the process of retrieving the bodies.

With dozens of fires continuing to burn across Australia, an extra 44 firefighters from the US landed in Melbourne on Friday to assist local crews.