Ballarat’s aerial firefighting response has been stepped up with a new firefighting helicopter based at Bacchus Marsh increasing Victoria’s aerial fire fleet to record numbers.
The Helitack firefighting helicopter at Bacchus Marsh will cover the region south to Geelong, grasslands to the west and north of Melbourne, the Wombat Forest and the southern edge of Macedon.
This will free up the Ballarat-based firefighting helicopter to concentrate on grass and bush fires in the immediate region.
“People ask if one extra helicopter in the fleet will really make a difference, but it does make a big difference particularly in the interface area filling what would have been a gap,” said Emergency Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley.
“It will also reduce the Ballarat footprint slightly so Ballarat Helitack doesn’t fly as far to a fire.”
The Ballarat Helitack firefighting helicopter starts operation from Ballarat airfield on Wednesday when the temperature is forecast to reach 35C. The Bacchus Marsh helicopter is already online.
Mr Lapsley said the forecast for an above normal fire season in Victoria remained the same, but would be a delayed start with last week’s rain.
“The forecast remains the same; we are likely to see warmer in the days and warmer nights, and a fire season from late December, January and February,” he said.
The two local helicopters, and most of the state’s water bombing aircraft, will operate during the fire season through pre-determined dispatch meaning they will be deployed to to fires at the same time as firefighters on the ground.
“Our firefighters always do a fantastic job on the ground, and the aircraft we are launching will support that,” Mr Lapsley said.
“We have a joined up approach between the ground and the air, which means Victorians are better protected.”
The Helitack aircraft can be in the air responding to a fire in less than five minutes, and Mr Lapsley said at a grassfire at Meredith last summer the Helitack, on pre-determined dispatch (PDD), was more effective in turnaround time than running the large Air Crane helicopters.
“With PDD we are seeing the Helitacks in the sky either before or at the same time as trucks on the ground, which is critical, then there’s travel time to the job,” Mr Lapsley said.
”We are pretty comfortable that we’ve got a great fleet, one of the best fleets in the world, and we are the only state in Australia to do PDD.”
The Bacchus Marsh based helicopter brings the state’s aerial firefighting fleet to a record 49 core aircraft including two large jets and two Aircrane helicopters.
All aircraft in the state’s summer fire arsenal will ready to be deployed by December 20.
Two Large Air Tankers, RJ and Hercules, will be based at Avalon and two orange Air-Cranes, Ichabod and Gypsy Lady, will be based at Moorabbin and Essendon but sent to regional areas when fire danger is assessed as being particularly high.
The arrival of one of the Large Air Tankers destined for Victoria has been delayed at least a week while it assists in the fight against the devastating Californian bushfires, but a sister machine based in NSW flew in to Victoria on Monday and will remain here until the original one arrives.
If dangerous bushfire conditions arise, a second so-called surge capacity fleet of stand-by aircraft including extra helicopters and fixed-wing agricultural spraying aircraft can also be called in to action.