Houses under threat NW of Hobart – another fire that we accompanied from this morning

Seeing this news from the ABC – Winds fan fire towards houses
It seems to me that this is another case where a fire could have been snuffed out this morning if we had large multi-engined fixed wing water bombers to deploy.

So many fires last month ran for over a week – surely these aircraft would be useful to extinguish the worst of fires and make it possible for over-worked ground crews to mopup efficiently.
But then Australian public service administration is so stuffed up with Federal State rivalries and turf wars – then you have headquarters out to units on the ground communications – yeah maybe we are just not clever enough to use these aircraft.
Further to my earlier article re Dunalley fire SE of Hobart last month.
Question about large fixed wing air tankers, water bombers in Australia now – Dunalley fire timeline

7 comments to Houses under threat NW of Hobart – another fire that we accompanied from this morning

  • Bob in Castlemaine

    It seems the assessment of Very Large Air Tankers (VLAT) came to the conclusion that they were not suitable, for Victoria at least, back in 2010. The tests involved a DC-10 aircraft capable of delivering 45,400 litres of water. By comparison the Erickson Aircrane helicopter is capable of carrying 9,000 litres.

  • WSH

    Thanks Bob, I recall hearing that summer about a large tanker trial. Never followed it up and of course we were lucky the next two summers tended to be damp. Have to say – after checking through that bureaucratic style pdf report, I did not see any serious reasons why the aircraft could not work here. Those little cartoons of hills & valleys at the end – is that the basis for rejecting the technology ? There must be other reports with better reasons than that. I just lack confidence in the fire fighting heirachy who IMHO have never addressed the seriousness of the shambles on Black Saturday. By that I mean starting the day deployed mainly SE of Melbourne and being slow to vector resources in on the Kilmore ignition point. Despite it making a huge signal on the weather radar and in full view of aircraft flying into Tullamarine. Then the loss of Flowerdale from part of the Kilmore fire slowly migrating NE over hours – all the time in the world to hit it with air tankers. The lack of media warnings until late in the day – I have some articles from 2009. Then the stunning account by the fire expert who said on 4 Corners TV that he went home early at 8pm “…and there had been no reports at that stage of casualties.”
    So about 170 people have died in the 2 or 3 hours prior – just a few tens of km away and the brass at Vic Fire HQ did not know. I do not know if the Royal Commission ever addressed those 4 Corners revelations.
    Here is the official view on large air tankers from the 1978 book “Bushfires in Australia”.

    Little change in 35 years I think. Just think of the scale of money wasted in poor Defence procurement decisions.

  • David Brewer

    Bob in Castlmaine’s second link (the Wildfire Today post) does give plausible reasons why the big planes were not considered suitable in Victoria in 2010 – billowing, missing the target, possible damage from drops especially near population areas etc.

    Maybe that’s right, especially for Victoria where fires can do a lot of damage within hours or a couple of days of starting. Another source says of the 2010 study:

    His report analysed the various “drops” of retardant made by the aircraft during real and simulated firefighting runs and found it had “limited effectiveness and presented some clear safety issues.”

    Accepting the report, Victorian Environment and Climate Change Minister Gavin Jennings announced that the State Government would not bring the DC-10 back but instead invest $12 million to lease two new Convair 580 fire bomber planes, a third Erikson Aircrane helicopter and four extra fixed-wing aircraft for the upcoming fire season.

    Dr Plucinski gave a presentation on his DC-10 evaluation at the annual AFAC and Bushfire CRC conference in Darwin in September. His talk drew a large audience keen to assess the merits of large aircraft for fire suppression under Australian conditions.

    So it seems Victoria has given big planes serious consideration, although I wonder a bit about some of the “safety issues” which in Bob’s link include possible damage to trees from retardant hitting them sideways and breaking off branches – what is that compared to thousands of square kilometers burnt to a crisp and scores or even hundreds of deaths?

    Also wonder whether the same would apply to fires in Alpine regions of NSW. The authorities now neglect burning off, have closed roads in national parks, and let fires burn for weeks before they sweep into Canberra or other towns. So those fires are going to be a lot bigger and harder to control. Big planes might be more suitable there.

    Or why not just prevent many of these fires in first place, and cut down the fuel loads they can get into if they do start? There is an awful lot of pussy-footing around these issues on the bushfirescrc site. It is obvious they know what the real problems are, but are being oh-so-diplomatic so as not to ruffle greenies’ feathers.

  • DaBilk

    Too bad they don’t make the Martin Mars anymore. There are only 2 left. The specs indicate a capacity of 27k litres, loads in 25 seconds and drops on an area of up to 1.6 hectares and can make a drop every 15 minutes.
    A beautiful aircraft. A friend lived on the lake they were based. Watching a couple of canoeists frantically paddle to get out of the way of a landing Martin Mars was priceless.

    I am not sure if they are still being contracted out for work in Western Canada/USA.

  • DaBilk

    Oops, I think I messed up the links.

    Coulson Flying Tankers Home page

    and a promo video.

  • Bob in Castlemaine

    David Brewer is right in saying:

    Or why not just prevent many of these fires in first place, and cut down the fuel loads they can get into if they do start? ……… It is obvious they know what the real problems are, but are being oh-so-diplomatic so as not to ruffle greenies’ feathers.

    In Victoria rapid initial deployment of air support, mainly helicopters, is working well in the current fire season. The main limitation of this strategy of course is that once you have a couple of big going fires, such as we’ve had in recent weeks, aircraft availability becomes limited.
    Undoubtedly early air attack is a good strategy but it needs to be used in conjunction with more extensive fuel reduction burning, a halving the fuel available to a fire reduces fire intensity by three quarters but that’s another story.

    Another emerging area of controversy surrounding aerial fighting relates to fires on land occupied by wind turbines. In S.A. during a fire at Starfish Hill CFS firefighters were told by Work Safe “You could go no closer than a kilometre away.” Meanwhile the Victorian CFA seems to have its head firmly planted in the sand, i.e. section 2.2 of the CFA’s Guidelines for Wind Energy Facilities states:

    Wind turbines should be located a minimum distance of 300 metres apart. This provides adequate distance for aircraft to operate around a Wind Energy Facility given the appropriate weather and terrain conditions. Fire suppression aircraft operate under “Visual Flight Rules”. As such, fire suppression aircraft only operate in areas where there is no smoke and during daylight hours. Wind turbines, similar to high voltage transmission lines, are part of the landscape and would be considered in the incident action plan.

    To blithely expect fixed wing or helicopter pilots to fly aircraft through smoke shrouded forests of giants such as these at Waubra wind farm is irresponsible to say the least. The AAAA (Aerial Agricultural Association of Australia) the organisation representing the most experienced low altitude pilots in the country states the following position on flying near wind farms:

    As a result of the overwhelming safety and economic impact of windfarms and supporting infrastructure on the sector, AAAA opposes all windfarm developments in areas of agricultural production or elevated bushfire risk.

    This example of seat-of-the-pants flying anywhere near wind turbines from an experienced pilot also serves to illustrate the dangers of flying anywhere near wind turbines.

  • Bob in Castlemaine

    Apologies for my two bad links in post # 6. Here are the fixes:

    AAAA policy on wind farms
    www.aerialag.com.au/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=MPvnIxoX2tM%3d&tabid=163&mid=683

    flying anywhere near wind turbines
    www.arising.com.au/aviation/windturbines/RichardThompson.pdf

    And an additional link – Wind Turbine Wake Plumes are a Hazard to Aviation Safety – Affordable Safety
    www.arising.com.au/aviation/windturbines/index.html

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