A water tanker plane tackling Australia's bushfires crashed on Thursday as soaring temperatures and strong winds stoked out-of-control blazes in the country's southeast.
Three people were killed when the water-bombing plane crashed southwest of Sydney, setting off a "large fireball", Australian officials said.
New South Wales Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said authorities lost contact with the C-130 Hercules aircraft, which was operating in the Snowy Monaro region, shortly before 1:30pm Thursday.
Mr Fitzsimmons said the aircraft owner, Canadian firm Coulson Aviation, was grounding its operations of large air tankers fighting fires in New South Wales and Victoria states "pending review" of the planes.
The fire in the Snowy Mountains region and one in the Bega Valley on the south coast of New South Wales (NSW) state both flared up, with emergency authorities warning residents to get out if they did not plan to defend their properties.
"Fire dangers are just starting to peak, and we're in for a long afternoon and night across many areas of NSW," the state's Rural Fire Service said on its Twitter account.
According to the Rural Fire Service website, a large air tanker was to be based in New South Wales year-round starting in late 2019.
The Boeing 737 planes, which typically have two pilots on board, can carry more than 15,000 litres of water or fire retardant and are used to support ground crews in their firefighting efforts.
The bushfire in the mountainous region, about five hours from Sydney, is burning across almost 94,000 hectares (230,000 acres).
The crash came as Canberra Airport closed due to nearby wildfires, and residents south of Australia's capital were told to seek shelter.
The blaze started on Wednesday but strong winds and high temperatures caused conditions in Canberra to deteriorate. A second fire near the airport that started on Thursday morning was at the "watch and act" level.
"Arrivals and departures are affected due to aviation firefighting operations," the airport authority said in a tweet.
Another tweet from traffic police said "the fire is moving fast and there are multiple road closures in the area. Please avoid the area. Local road blocks in place."
Residents in some Canberra suburbs were advised to seek shelter and others to leave immediately.
"The defence force is both assisting to a degree and looking to whether that needs to be reinforced," Defense Minister Angus Campbell told reporters.
"I have people who are both involved as persons who need to be moved from areas and office buildings that are potentially in danger, and also those persons who are part of the (Operation) Bushfire Assist effort," he said.
Stephanie Edwards has captured photos showing why Canberra Airport has been closed due to a bushfire burning in close proximity. pic.twitter.com/vXmTzzSrBC— Brent Ford (@BrentFord26) January 23, 2020
Sydney was forecast to hit 41 degrees Celsius (105.8 Fahrenheit) following a few days of cooler weather.
The Bureau of Meteorology warned that "damaging winds" were driving up fire dangers in some regions, while the country's biggest city was again forecast to wallow in hazardous air quality levels under smoke palls from some 90 blazes burning across the state.
Since September, hundreds of wildfires in Australia have killed 29 people as well as an estimated 1 billion native animals, while incinerating 2,500 homes and a total area of bushland one-third the size of Germany.
The disaster hit the Christmas and summer holiday season, emptying out caravan parks and hotels, devastating peak earnings for businesses dependent on domestic and foreign tourists.