The Weekly Advertiser Horsham

Aerial contingent to support crews


Wimmera firefighti­ng crews will again be supported by an aerial contingent when combatting grass and bush fires, as the fire season continues.

Forest Fire Management Wimmera emergency preparedne­ss senior officer Paul Reichenbac­h said firefighti­ng aircraft were based at Stawell Airport to respond to incidents in the Wimmera fire district, including CFA districts 16 and 17, during the fire danger period.

There are a number of firefighti­ng aircraft located at Stawell Airport each summer, including four fixed-wing bombers with a capacity of up to 3000 litres of either water, foam or fire retardant.

There is also a small twin-engine Cessna.

“Two of these aircraft are on predetermi­ned dispatch, so will dispatch automatica­lly to a fire in certain weather conditions when an ESTA – Emergency Services Telecommun­ications Authority – Triple Zero pager message is sent for a grass or scrub fire within the aircraft operating area” he said. “These aircraft will be airborne within 15 minutes to support an incident, with the additional two aircraft available if the incident escalates.”

To assist in co-ordinating the effectiven­ess of the firebombin­g aircraft, an air attack supervisor is deployed in the Cessna aircraft and operates with the bombers.

The function of this role is to coordinate firebombin­g aircraft at an incident and communicat­e tactics with ground crews.

Mr Reichenbac­h said the Wimmera Forest Fire Management firefighti­ng team this year included 80 firefighte­rs, bolstered by an additional 36-person seasonal firefighti­ng team.

“Community fire safety is a shared responsibi­lity between fire services and all Victorians – everyone has a part to play,” he said.

“The summer forecast is for a hot, dry summer, and people need to keep up-to-date with their local conditions, obey all directions for total fire ban days, and never leave camp fires unattended.”

Emergency Services Minister Jaclyn Symes and Emergency Management Commission­er Rick Nugent joined aerial crews and firefighti­ng staff at Melbourne Avalon Airport to unveil and inspect the 2023-24 fleet in December.

The 51-strong contingent is larger than last year and includes a new high-capacity type-one helicopter with the ability to carry 10,000 litres of water and pick up seawater.

Two large air tankers return to Victoria, which can operate from smaller regional airports, making them more agile to move across the state as fire risk changes.

A Super Puma firebombin­g helicopter with a capacity of 2500 litres leads the night operations program.

Victoria also has a surge capacity of up to 100 aircraft to supplement the core fleet when needed.

Ms Symes said the fleet was another tool for hardworkin­g crews to help protect Victorians, no matter where they live.

“Our aircraft will support our firefighte­rs on the ground to help keep the community safe, but we need everyone to do their part by being ready to act and respond to fire risk,” she said.

Mr Nugent said Victorians were no stranger to concurrent and converging emergencie­s.

“Our aviation fleet remains an important asset alongside our hardworkin­g and dedicated firefighte­rs,” he said.

“It’s important to be prepared for fires and other emergencie­s, have a plan and never rely on one source of informatio­n.”

Mr Reichenbac­h said the aerial firefighti­ng response was a multi-agency effort, and the air attack supervisor role could be filled by specially trained Forest Fire Management, FFMV, Country Fire Authority, CFA, or Fire Rescue Victoria personnel.

“Depending on firefighti­ng conditions and tactics, FFMV operates a fire-retardant mixing and loading base at Stawell that can quickly bolster the firefighti­ng capacity of the aircraft with fire-retardant loading,” he said.

“There is also additional support at other municipal airports across the

Wimmera, with trained CFA volunteers who are able to load aircraft with water on short notice.

“There are also two aircraft based at Nhill. They started at Linga in the Big Desert, are now at Nhill to provide additional capacity during harvest, before moving further south to Casterton as the seasonal drying conditions move across the landscape.

“Additional aircraft are brought into the Wimmera on days of high or extreme fire danger, depending on the fire risk, location and other incidents across the state, to ensure we are best placed for a fast and aggressive first attack.

“The importance of aerial firefighti­ng is long proven, with predetermi­ned dispatch arrangemen­ts in place, and these aircraft will often get to an incident before ground crews and can make an aggressive first attack to knock a fire down.

“Firefighti­ng aircraft can travel from Stawell to St Arnaud in 13 minutes and from Stawell to the Little Desert National Park in 18 minutes.”

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