Memorial service held for U.S. airman who died fighting Australian wildfires

Rick DeMorgan Jr. was one of three Americans killed on Jan. 23, when their water bombing air tanker came down in New South Wales.

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By Isobel van Hagen

A memorial service was held for an American airman who died fighting Australia's deadly wildfires before his body was repatriated to the U.S. on Saturday.

Rick DeMorgan Jr. was one of three Americans killed on Jan. 23, when their water bombing air tanker came down in New South Wales.

The remains of captain Ian C. McBeth, 44, and first officer Paul C. Hudson, 42, were flown home earlier this week. A memorial service was held for the pair before they were repatriated on Wednesday.

The ceremony for DeMorgan Jr. took place at an Australian Air Force Military base near Sydney.

Shane Fitzsimmons, Commissioner of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service, thanked the three men for their service on Twitter.

The crew were working for Coulson Aviation, a private U.S. company that was contracted by the Rural Fire Service in order to help fight the fires.

DeMorgan, who had two children, served with the Air Force and had worked for 18 years as a C-130 flight engineer, according to the company.

The flight engineer was a resident of Florida.

The three were among hundreds of North American firefighters who joined an international effort to battle the devastating fires that have killed more than 30 people and destroyed more than 2,500 homes in Australia. Eight of those killed have been firefighters, the Reuters press agency reported.

After months of destructive wildfires that razed millions of hectares of land, and decimated wildlife, Australia continues in recent weeks to be hit by more wild weather.

On Saturday, Western Australia braced for a tropical cyclone, while the battered east coast faces flash flood warnings.

Severe tropical cyclone Damien made landfall on the west coast on Saturday afternoon. It is forecast to bring ferocious winds and a potentially dangerous storm tide.

Meanwhile, the eastern Australian state of New South Wales is simultaneously bracing for severe wet weather this weekend.

There were still more than 40 active fires on the East Coast, according to Reuters — half of them yet to be contained — but fire services said the downpours this weekend may help to dampen them.

Reuters contributed.