Australia bushfires: Volunteer firefighter killed in freak accident was expecting his first child

Sharon Marris, news reporter

A volunteer who was killed while tackling bushfires in Australia has been named as Samuel McPaul.

The 28-year-old died when his fire truck rolled over in strong winds at the scene of a blaze in New South Wales on Monday.

Two of his colleagues were injured - and one of them, a 39-year-old man, remains in hospital with serious burns.

Mr McPaul had been married to his wife Megan for nearly 18 months, and they were expecting their first child in May.

Shane Fitzsimmons, the rural fire service commissioner for New South Wales, said: "To lose one of our own in such extraordinary circumstances is just tragic.

"As you would expect, the family is grieving and it's been a very difficult night - it would be fair to say I don't even think the comprehension has set in of the enormity of the tragedy and the loss.

"Megan and Sam have been married now for nearly 18 months... so we've got a completely devastated family, a devastated local community, it has been an extraordinary loss."

Mr McPaul is the third firefighter killed in the fires which have ravaged parts of Australia over the past few months.

Firefighters Geoffrey Keaton, 32, and Andrew O'Dwyer, 36, were killed earlier in December when their fire truck hit a tree and rolled over just south of Sydney.

The fires have devastated more than four million hectares of land, killed at least 10 people and thousands of animals, and destroyed more than 1,000 homes.

Firefighters from the US, Canada and New Zealand have been assisting their Australian colleagues.

In New South Wales, 2,000 firefighters are battling 101 fires, 49 of which are uncontained.

In the southern state of Victoria, all eyes are on Mallacoota, a small town in the East Gippsland region, where 4,000 people have taken refuge on the foreshore, bracing for the fires that are heading their way.

Photos on social media showed the area's skies turning black with smoke but Country Fire Authority chief officer Steve Warrington said three strike teams were based in the town and were protecting residents.

He added: "It is pitch black. It is quite scary in that community. They right now are under threat. But we will hold our line and they will be saved and protected."

He said people who had chosen not to follow advice were "taking their chances".

On Sunday about 30,000 holidaymakers were urged to leave East Gippsland - a tourist hotspot in Victoria - but the local mayor said many people had ignored the plea and there was "no mass exodus".

The Princes Highway - the main road in and out of the area - has been closed and those people remaining had been warned to take shelter as it was now too dangerous to risk getting trapped on the road.

Four people are unaccounted for in Victoria but, while officials said these were not firefighters, they were unable to say which part of the state they were from.

On Monday, 260 new fires started across Victoria, according to the state's main newspaper The Age, on a day that every state in Australia is believed to have topped 40C (104F), even the normally cooler Tasmania.