Samuel McPaul died on Monday just before 6 p.m. when the truck he was traveling in crashed at Jingellic, about 110km east of Albury in NSW.
An emotional Rural Fire Service (RFS) Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons on Tuesday said the 10-tonne truck was hit by winds so extreme at the 26,000-hectare Green Valley fire that it flipped on its roof.
Services flags are to be flown at half-mast on New Year’s Eve local time as a mark of respect for the volunteer firefighter, the NSW RFS announced on Twitter.
The #NSWRFS firefighter killed at the Green Valley Fire, east of Albury is Samuel McPaul from the Morven Brigade in the Southern Border Team. Today Service flags will be flown at half-mast as a mark of respect.
Our thoughts are with Sam’s family, friends & fellow Brigade members. pic.twitter.com/co28qXK1E6
— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) December 30, 2019
The 28-year-old, who was expecting his first child in May with his wife Megan who he married last year, died at the scene.
The Holbrook-based firey’s social media accounts state he went to school in Broulee on the NSW south coast and then took up animal science at Charles Sturt University.
Two male colleagues in the truck—aged 39 and 52—were injured and taken to hospital. The 39-year-old was airlifted to The Alfred Hospital in Melbourne and remains in a serious condition.
A command vehicle was also blown over, injuring one other firefighter.
On the same fire ground, two firefighters suffered burns to their faces and airways and were airlifted to Concord Hospital.
Fitzsimmons traveled south to mourn with McPaul’s family on Monday and said “hearts were breaking” for them at the RFS.
“I don’t think the comprehension has set in yet, of the enormity of the tragedy and the loss,” Fitzsimmons told reporters on Tuesday.
“Crews described what they experienced as truly horrific, an extraordinary wind event, describing it as a fire tornado or the collapse of a pyro-convective column that had formed above the main fire front.
“That’s resulted in cyclonic-type winds that have moved across the fire ground and has literally lifted up a 10 or 12-tonne fire truck.”
McPaul is the third NSW volunteer firefighter to die this bushfire season. Geoffrey Keaton, 32, and Andrew O’Dwyer, 36, died on December 19 when a tree hit their tanker as they were traveling southwest of Sydney.
Almost 100 blazes continue to burn across NSW, with dozens uncontained and five on Tuesday morning at “emergency” level.
“The RFS has lost another member of its family, a young man fighting fires in his local community,” Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Tuesday.
“He died in very, very difficult circumstances.
“This brings home to us what NSW is going through—every fire front is a threat to life, a threat to people’s life as they know it.”
Extreme fire danger is forecast for the Southern Ranges, Illawarra and ACT on New Year’s Eve while surrounding regions—including Sydney, the Hunter and the far south coast—are set for severe fire danger.
Strong westerly winds are expected, pushing fires east and placing coastal communities and holiday hotspots under threat.
Total fire bans are in place for more than half of the state’s 21 fire districts including greater Sydney, while residents have been reminded that private firework displays for New Year’s Eve are illegal.
Motorists have been advised to avoid all non-essential travel, while stretches of the Princes and Monaro highways are shut.
The Dunns Road fire near Tumut and the Badja Forest Rd fire near Cooma appear set to be among the blazes on Tuesday to expand most significantly.
Fire prediction maps suggest the Green Wattle Creek fire, which has already scorched 227,000ha, may cross the Hume Highway near Bowral.