Question about large fixed wing air tankers, water bombers in Australia now – Dunalley fire timeline

I am asking about air tankers on the scale of the P-3 Orion, or DC-10 or Boeing 747, people may know of others, does anybody know the whereabouts of any of these aircraft ? Who controls their use ? Thinking of the disastrous Dunalley fire SE of Hobart Friday 4 Jan 13. ABC map of Dunalley fire.
Can people please post any links to dated photos of fixed wing air tankers working this month – thanks.
Added after posting: The answer here seems to be – there are none. Great photo of BAe-146 air tanker dropping fire retardant in California. So with all our wealth in Australia we go into a summer without any medium & large air tankers. I wonder who decided this ?
Back to the Dunalley fire – here is the Dunalley fire smoke plume on weather radar from midday until 5pm – judging from the first smoke signal ignition was before 1pm – note local time is in the lower left where it says (Updated on Server) UTC is GMT I think.
Table below shows Dunalley weather from BoM site in town. Temperature is first column – the next 4 cols are not vital then the last 3 cols are wind direction, wind speed and wind gusts in km hour.

Dunalley Timeline – work in progress
[1] Ignition likely near ~midday as radar shows first smoke pixel at 12.54pm. Most fires do not make enough smoke to show a signal on radar – and wind was fairly quiet so fire was probably not making sufficient smoke to be detected by radar for an hour or so until 1pm.
[2] Temperatures at Dunalley at time of ignition were only 30 to 35 degrees – see above screen save from BoM page. The time prior to 2pm was the window of opportunity for an aerial attack to suppress this fire.
[3] Note in the table how wind and temperature increased sharply between 1.51 and 1.57pm which fits exactly the time radar shows the smoke signal rapidly increasing. From that time on the fire would have quickly become more difficult to suppress.
[4] The passage of the fire in Dunalley is shown by the 54.9 and 49.9 temperatures at 4.22 & 4.23pm.

Question I am interested in is – “what were authorities doing from midday till 2pm when the fire in relatively quiet winds should have been easiest to put out”

8 thoughts on “Question about large fixed wing air tankers, water bombers in Australia now – Dunalley fire timeline”

  1. I just found your post from 9 Nov 09 quoting the fire expert Dr Kevin Tolhurst on ABC 4 Corners just after Black Saturday – “…I finished .. about 8 o’clock that night and there had been no reports at that stage of casualties.”I had to sit quiet for a while to contemplate the full enormity of that. And he was in Vic Fire HQ !!! So, basically near 200 people were being killed for some few hours, only ~50km of HQ, and Vic Fire HQ did not know. Australia in 2009; you have to pinch me.

  2. Beachgirl,
    I was listening almost continuously to media that Melbourne fire day. There were some quick mentions that sounded very bad, but many hours passed before the size of the disaster started to be broadcast.
    There might be good reasons for this, such as not wanting to create alarm and crowd control problems. There might have been culpable negligence in high places, which some people think best to cover up.
    Either way, it’s not reassuring.
    If you are a forecaster and you believe that fires are worst in heat waves, you look at heat waves, however defined. Here are some graphs from Sydney Observatory and Melbourne HQ over the last 150 years or so, for January.

    It would be hard to place fire fighting tankers on the basis of data like these. I do not claim that these tell a full story, but they are the beginnings of a synthesis scheme. As such, they make one wonder if constructing an accurate predictive scheme is possible.

  3. While we have the 747 and other very large firefighting aircraft in the US, they are mostly not deployed until very large areas have been burnt off with large losses of private property and even life. After each occurance there are numerous excuses as to why they were not deployed sooner. After years of this I am beginning to go conspiracy theory and think the gubmint WANTS the disastrous fires to either claim more budget or enhance their Gorebull Warming Claims!!!

  4. Emailed in from Ed Thurstan.
    You asked about firebombers. I have some background in that. HARS – The Historical Aircraft Restoration Society based in Albion Park now, put forward some ideas on the Aerial Firebombing techniques and benefits about 10 years ago. Our proposals were not received favourably by the then NSW Govt. I was a member of HARS. I participated in the restoration to flying condition of some aircraft, including a Lockheed Constellation.
    There are horses for courses.
    A jet aircraft can carry a big load of water. Takes time to fill. It is a gas
    guzzler. Needs a long runway. Capital costs still quite high.
    A Helicopter (also a gas guzzler) can pick up water faster, is slow to the target. Can’t carry much. So it is best for close range, where the fire target is near the source of water (lake, dam, swimming pool).
    It all comes down to the rate at which water can be delivered to the fire, and where the fire is. A helicopter, a Neptune, a Canadair CL215, a C130 may be able to wriggle into a valley to dump its load. But the big, heavy lumbering jets can’t do that. But they can very effectively deal with fires on open land, where they can lay a long firebreak that will douse, or deflect a fire front.
    Neptunes, Orions, DC4s, DC6s and the like are cheap to buy, fuel efficient a low
    altitudes and they are popular in the US, operated by what some might call “cowboy” pilots.
    The Canadair CL215 is designed to fight fires in pine forests, in a forest
    environment with embedded lakes. Quick turnaround (pickup in flight) then short
    trip to fire. Perfect for Canada. Not good in Australia, except maybe Snowy
    The Australian firebombing fleet is all lightweight. Helicopters with buckets,
    cropdusters that are very nimble, but need an airstrip with copious water supplies to refill. So they are close range tactical weapons against as fire, Like a Huey in Vietnam.
    The C130 Hercules, if fitted with a few hundred kg of permanent structure, is a good tactical firebomber. Tanks can be slid into that modified structure, so that it can carry 20 tonnes of water. I understand this procedure to take a few hours. So it could work at Richmond AFB, given fast refilling facilities. That aircraft could effectively cover Sydney’s western suburbs. But its efficiency would deteriorate for fires further afield.

  5. Just listening to the parkies attacking a fire/lightning strike to the north of Mtn Jagungal in the northern end of Kosciuszko NP (Sat 9th Feb)
    They have helo’ed in ground crews and the helo’s are now bucketing the fire. Fixed wing,single engine aerial tankers (SEAT)are putting down a phoscheck line (fire retardent)
    Aircraft have come from their bases in Jindabyne, Tumut and Wagga Wagga.
    Just imagine that all our aviation fire fighting budget had been tied up in a couple of very large tankers. Luckily the nearest airfield with the length of runway and pavement strength to operate a 200 tonne plus aircraft is Canberra airport about a hundred km’s away. Are the aircraft available ie not working on another fire in another state. Is the current weather suitable to operate a VLT in since we are having a thunderstorms in the area.
    All aircraft have many limitations the most annoying being that they roost at night (except for the flir/ mapping runs by fixed wing aircraft)but I can see that VLT’s have more than most.
    Sorry but for the money available for aerial firefighting I would rather have many helo’s (and that does not mean the Erickson Sky Cranes that I have seen snap tree’s with their rotor wash and are really good at spreading fire across containment lines)that are able to transport crews, do the reccies, bucket and redeploy quickly.
    May I respectfully suggest getting out onto a fire line and see what does and dosn’t work in the effort to control a bushfire, it is a fascinating application of physics and logistics on a real life event that at times, sadly, is measured in the loss of lives and property.
    PS More lightning strikes have been reported in the Monaro/ Alpine area this afternoon and a helo has been retasked from the Jagungal fire.
    Mother Nature is doing some prescribed burning without bothering to to get a permit!
    I wonder how the Green’s explain away that.

  6. Googled the Evergreen 747 VLT and the most recent news, June 2012, was that it was parked in Arizona because of a lack of a contract with US Forestry who manage the aviation firefighting. It is apparently too expensive to maintain the aircraft and associated infrastructure ie specialist aircrew and systems engineers without a long term contract. Also there may be a issue with Boeing certifying the airframe but that may be with an earlier aircraft

  7. I do not think anybody is saying to scrap all our fleet of small units and replace with large units. But we need to engage with the larger air tanker technology. The cost estimates of the losses at just the Dunalley fire is in the range up to $100Mn. Talking about cost – the RAAF has used the C-130 for a long time – we are giving some of the older versions away – impossible to have utilized a couple of Hercs I suppose – maybe get on a learning curve. The technology has been used in Nth America since WWII. As I said earlier – think how defence money is wasted – $6Bn (early 1990 $’s) on Collins Class subs – there could be a long list here.
    It would be interesting to see the performance of our existing fire HQ efforts critiqued with the same nit-picking detail that was applied to the DC-10. I would like to see a frank report by the pilots and owners of the DC-10 on their experience downunder.
    If we ever do another trial using Nth American aircraft – I would prefer a structure using their expertise along with RAAF people and just the minimum point of contact required with our local fire bureaucracies.
    IMHO if we do not engage with larger air tanker technology then we increase the risk of serious death tolls in future bushfires. Already this year it was fortunate at Yass that forecast high winds did not eventuate on 12 Jan or the Cobblers Road fire which had been progressing for over a week could have been a bigger threat to Yass suburbs. A large AT could have assisted there. Several fires this season just ran on here and there for over a week – we are just lucky there was seldom larger populations in the way.
    Agree totally that many of these fires we are seeing on TV now are just natures controlled burns. A few weeks ago there was TV footage from Harrietville usually showing a quietly burning fireline in the medium distance – nature getting rid of excess fuel – a human choice not to do that work in the cool season. In the foreground of those shots it was usually obvious from the weeds, high grass and undergrowth that little cool season hazard reduction had been done. Meant to add a few links –
    Giant water bomber ready for fire season – the DC-10 In Oz 2009-10 – from our Govt news service.
    History of the Waterbomber – Ontario story goes back to post WWII origins.
    Specifications of many aircraft types used as water bombers

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