Helitacs vital in fight against fire

The view from a helitac of a bushfire on the outskirts of Perth during the 2012-13 bush fire season.
The view from a helitac of a bushfire on the outskirts of Perth during the 2012-13 bush fire season.

For the ninth bushfire season in a row, the HNZ helitacs based at Perth Airport worked to protect the rural-urban interface from fire.

From first until last light each day since November, the crews and helicopters, which are operated under contract to the Department of Fire and Emergency Services, remained on standby to protect homes and property.

In one of the busiest fire seasons on record, about 1600 fire incidents were recorded across the metropolitan area with HNZ machines used on more than sixty days during the season.

HNZ pilot and spokesman Brenton Davis said often the helitacs will already be in the air attending one fire, when the call comes in to respond to a second incident.

‘This season, more than ever before, DFES have launched the helicopters in early response to new fires,’ he said.

‘Being able to get to the fire early has allowed us to deliver an accurate volume of water in critical spots which allow ground crews to get on top of the problem early.

‘This strategy has had great results with so many fires never being able to reach the problem levels we have sometimes seen in the past.’

Mr Davis said in a field where arson was almost a daily occurrence, the largest fire of the season turned out to be a result of bad luck rather than bad people.

‘The run of multiple fires which snaked their way up the Swan and then Avon valleys in late February proved to be the result of sparks flying from a freight train as it wound its way toward Toodyay,’ he said.

‘When the sparks found their way into the protected valleys around the Avon River, the resultant fires tore up and over the hills, threatening homes and property with alarming speed.

‘Multiple helicopters combined with fixed-wing water bombers in a prolonged battle, and career fire-fighters as well as volunteer ground crews were stretched to their limits.

‘In a remarkable result, where conditions in both the air and on the ground sometimes resembled a war zone, no homes were lost.

‘So many of these events are still the result of something simple like a thoughtlessly discarded cigarette butt. If people could only see the destruction and close calls which we see from the air, everyone would be a bit more |diligent.’