On Thursday, by all accounts, conditions were dangerous. “It was blowing a gale, mate,” said Ken Bowerman, a volunteer firefighter in Bredbo, a small town not far from where the plane crashed. “We’re in extraordinary times.”
Rain in recent days — a torrent in some areas, a few drops in others — had offered a small reprieve. But on Thursday, with temperatures soaring over 100 degrees in previously fire-stricken states like New South Wales, including a high of 110 at Sydney’s airport, fire officials once again issued emergency warnings.
Earlier in the day, fires approached the suburbs of Canberra, forcing the closing of its airport to flights. Residents in the affected areas around the capital were told that driving could be deadly and that they should seek immediate shelter.
In other parts of the country, which has been gripped by drought and has just ended its hottest and driest year on record, dust storms covered towns. Brown rain fell in Melbourne, discoloring the Yarra River.
But the worst impacts of the day were felt in the rural mountain towns south of Canberra, where the fires in Peak View were among more than 80 that were burning, half of them out of control. From the mountains to the coast, firefighters reported homes burning, even as the police and emergency service personnel clustered near the crash site.
In Numeralla, where ash-faced firefighters gathered at the local fire station late on Thursday after a 12-hour shift, appreciation mixed with sadness and fatigue. Some of the volunteers, pointing to a map on a plastic table, said they believed the plane had been trying to protect a group of houses lining a gravel road through the area.
A small circle of ink showed the location — between the flames and a dry riverbed named Good Creek.