Fighting fire through the air


A fleet of 50 fire-fighting aircraft will help keep Victoria communities safe through the 2019-2020 summer fire season.

The State Government announced the fleet last week, including a mix of water bombing aircraft, air supervision and air intelligence-gathering aircraft.

The fleet includes two large air tankers, which can carry up to 15,000 litres of water, foam or retardant, and two 7500 litre aircranes, providing support to other aircraft across the state.

It also includes several specialist night-time aircraft, which can firebomb and undertake intelligence operations after dark, if conditions are suitable.

Victoria’s emergency service agencies are preparing for an elevated fire season for east and west Gippsland, with the rest of the state expected to experience similar conditions as last fire season.

CFA District 12 Commander Tim McKern, based in Seymour, said so far this year, rainfall had been below average across much of the district’s catchment.

“While we’re talking about an average fire season across much of the state, including our district, there’s still the potential to have fast-running grass fires and fires within forested areas,” he said.

“Even when we have an average bushfire season, there are still a significant number of fires that occur that cause damage to livestock, property and infrastructure.”

Aircraft will provide immediate fire response and pre-determined dispatch across the state, allowing water bombing aircraft to respond to fires at the same time as fire trucks.

“We currently utilise pre-determined dispatch which has aircraft responding immediately on the report of a fire once we reach a certain fire danger threshold,” Commander McKern said.

“This can result in the first firefighting equipment on scene being the aircraft. It means we can keep fires small until we can get ground crews on scene.

“Our firefighting aircraft are really effective but they’re always used in combination with ground resources and the important work of our volunteers on the ground in fire suppression.”

Firefighting aircraft were dispatched 2466 times during 2018-19, an 11 per cent increase on the previous year.