Having access to aerial firefighting resources will help ground firefighters do what they need to do as heatwave conditions approach this week.
Local crews have been called to several fires in the last few days which threatened to become major emergencies, including at a Linton pine plantation and an abandoned car fire in Mount Clear.
Despite flash flooding in December, the forests are exceptionally dry, and the Bureau of Meteorology has forecast tops of 37 degrees on Monday and 35 degrees on Tuesday.
District 15 operations manager Brett Boatman said his crews were well prepared, but having helicopter support made a difference.
“We deployed a firebomber to Linton, it worked for an hour and a half - we’re deploying (air support) almost every week now, and if you went back ten years, it was nowhere near as often,” he said.
“Now it’s part of our regular frontline capability, we’re very lucky to have it here and Bacchus Marsh.
“They don’t put them out, (ground) firecrews do, but they help to keep small fires small.”
Recently, Ballarat-based helicopter crews conducted night operations at the bushfire in Gippsland - the additional capability provided a welcome “tool in the toolbox”.
“It’s exciting to see the capability extend beyond daylight,” Mr Boatman said.
CFA Grampian regional controller Stephen Warren concurred, noting the strategic planning conducted before the season began had paid dividends.
“Talking to my fellow regional controllers from around the state, they’ve been surprised at what is actually available,” he said.
“It’s a great resource, and it’s where we’ve got to keep innovating and taking things further.
“The emergency doesn’t stop because the sun disappears, and having firefighters out there in the dark - I’m an SES person, and I’ve always said we go out and put the housefire out but then you can’t see what you’re doing when the flames are gone, the risk goes up.”
Assets and resources have been moved around the state as conditions change - for example, fixed-wing waterbombers have been allocated to the Wimmera during cropping, but move south as the season goes on.
“On a normal day we have up to four of those sitting at Stawell, Hamilton, some at Geelong,” Mr Warren explained.
“There’s also the helicopters, and the one in Ballarat and one in Bacchus Marsh, which are on pre-determined dispatch, they go out straight away with the ground crews - they often get there before the ground crews to put the first load of water or retardant on (fires).
The public still has a role to play, and Mr Boatman said firefighters would have enough on their hands without dealing with man-made fires - look after neighbours, have a plan in case of emergency, and minimise risk by not using equipment outside, especially during a heatwave.
“We highly discourage anyone doing anything relating to cleaning up properties on fire danger days,” he said.
“It needs to be done on a cooler day, before 10am, with heavy dew from the night before.
“Stay out of the paddocks on your motorbikes.
“We look after Daylesford and Clunes, and if you’re travelling away from Ballarat, know what the risk is and have a plan if things change while you’re on the road.”
For up-to-date information on fires, download the free VicEmergency app.
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