Australia’s first night fire fighting operation is officially on-line for the summer fire season from Ballarat Airport after the Coulson Aviation helicopters that have been involved in trialling the concept for two years came “on contract”.
Although it came a day late for the Buninyong bushfires, the night crew were immediately put on standby for the Little River grassfire, but ultimately they were not needed.
“For the first time ever in a fire bombing sense we are able to go out at night,” said night firefighting project leader Wayne Rigg.
Until now the helicopters and crews have been in training, but this summer’s phase two trial will focus on testing procedures and operation on real fires
The Coulson helicopters will also be available to fight fires during the day, with day crews and night crews rostered on to ensure needs can be met.
The night fire bomber will be deployed to fires determined to be appropriate to continue the testing. The night crews must undertake surveillance on the fire in daylight to understand the terrain, hazards and suitable water sources.
“It’s not a 24 hour operation but it will have five hours of night vision time,” Mr Rigg said.
“I’ve been on fires in the day time, nearly on top of fires with ground crews, but we’ve had to come back to base because of last light. In this instance we can extend through and hopefully make that difference.
“Incident controllers now have a tool that they previously didn’t have.”
The night operation comprises two helicopters – the large water bomber with two pilots and an observation helicopter with pilot, camera technician and air attack supervisor. A fuel truck driver and engineer complete the team.
Another certified helicopter for night fire operations, through Kestral Aviation, will be based at Mangalore and operate from December 19.
Phase one of the trial last summer was to gain approval through the Civil Aviation Safety Authority to conduct night fire operations. Phase two has looked to transition from staged fire and water drops to real fires. While the night fire fighting helicopters are based at Ballarat and Mangalore, they can operate across Victoria.
“This is another milestone for the trial and the culmination of more than two years of approvals, training and preparation for us,’ Mr Rigg said.
“This summer we’ll be working with incident managers and ground crews to determine the most appropriate fires for night fire suppression operations but our focus is on improving outcomes for communities.
“I’m convinced it will make a difference and protect communities.”
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