A firefighting helicopter crashed in Australia Wednesday as it attempted to drop water on wildfires that continue to burn in two of the nation’s most populous regions.

The chopper crashed in Pechey, officials said, and the pilot survived and was rescued by another helicopter. The chopper went down in windy conditions as it hovered close to the ground.

More than 150 brush fires are burning in New South Wales and Queensland and have destroyed more than 170 homes so far.

Residents and vacationers at Noosa North Shore escaped the fire on boats and ferries, the only way in or out of the area. Firefighters said the flames keep jumping containment lines.

“We thought we had it contained but the wind is terribly variable,” Noosa Mayor Tony Wellington said. “A change of wind means it’s now spotting beyond containment lines.”

A different fire destroyed two homes and damaged two others Wednesday in Geraldton in Western Australia’s Mid-West region. Roads are closed and students who normally take buses were kept at school.

In Elands, firefighters performed a controlled burn that kept another fire from reaching a nearby neighbourhood.

So far, officials said, the fires have caused about $50 million in damages. Hundreds of claims have been made from catastrophe areas, including 80 properties officials say could be a total loss. The “catastrophe” designation gives claims higher priority.

A U.S. company will be deployed to New South Wales to help with firefighting efforts. The company is offering a plane that can carry nearly 10,000 gallons of water in its tank.


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