Aviation night fire fighting could be trialled in Ballarat

Fires could  be fought from the air in the middle of the night if a world-first night vision program, pegged for Central Victoria, is given the tick of approval. 

Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley told The Courier  the program was set to be trialled in February 2017 pending approval from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority.  

Mr Lapsley said, if approved, the pilot program would be among the first in the world and would significantly aid firefighting efforts. The pilot program signals a new age for aviation firefighting which has changed significantly since the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires. 

“Night vision has never been approved to operate in Australia. (The questions we need to answer) are how do you get your fleet operating in the early part of the night? How do we get them out in the coolest time – like 3am in the morning,” Mr Lapsley said.

“We are hoping to bring night vision to maximise the available use of aircraft in the night hours. If we do run the pilot program Ballarat and Central Victoria would become a key part of the trial program. We are among the world  leaders of aviation firefighting.”

If approved, suitable aircraft would be leased and likely trialled in Ballarat. The program would complement current drone trials where drones are currently fitted with video cameras that show thermal and heat patterns.

The drones do not carry water, but they can be flown into hotspot areas to determine where firefighting attack is needed. Mr Lapsley said drones presented some challenges because they could not be flown when aircraft was in use due to safety.​

“They are used  in the aftermath – as soon as the aircraft get out they are used to see where hotspots are so we can better carry out blacking operations,” Mr Lapsley said. 

The announcement comes as Victoria faces a higher than average fire season. 

Mr Lapsley told Fairfax Media grasses in central Victoria had already dried out and farmers were already harvesting bumper crops, in contrast with last year when it was so dry that there was no hay to be cut.

“It's a different season to last year. We've had one of the wettest winters on record and now we're moving into this period of prolific growth,” he said.

Restrictions for Ballarat will start on December 12.  CFA district 15 operations officer Brett Boatman said residents needed to be aware of what they could and could not do during the fire danger period.

“It’s about making sure we minimise the risk of fire during this period,” Mr Boatman said.