Richard Court

Richard Court


Bob Wiese

Bob Wiese


    Use of aerial fire-fighting techniques to combat summer bushfires

    10/08/1996 12:00 AM



    Aerial fire-fighting techniques will be used this summer as a key part of the State Government's commitment to strengthen resources to combat bushfires in the Darling Scarp and other outer metropolitan areas.


    Premier Richard Court said the Government would engage two water bombers to be on standby for the peak fire season between December and April.


    "The planes will form a rapid-response, first strike force aimed at limiting the spread of fires before they develop into major incidents," Mr Court said.


    "The air attack is being introduced on a trial basis for this summer following extensive evaluations of aerial fire fighting techniques in other parts of Australia over the past year.


    "The evaluations have shown that aircraft flying out of centres such as Perth and Jandakot airports could help contain wildfires before they cause extensive damage.


    "The planes will certainly not replace the fire fighting crews. But they will assist the effective use of ground crews in bringing fires under control."


    The trial will be carried out by the State's three leading combat fire agencies - the Department of Conservation and Land Management, the Western Australian Fire and Rescue Service and the Bush Fires Board. Aviation authorities will also be closely involved in the operation.


    Aerial fire fighting involves despatching aircraft immediately a fire is detected and `bombing' the firefront with water, foam or retardants covering an area up to 80 metres long and 40 metres wide.


    Each plane carries about 3,000 litres and can make up to three drops an hour.


    They are most effective while fires are still small.


    Emergency Services Minister Bob Wiese said the trend towards an increasing number of bushfires in the outer metropolitan area was disturbing.


    "What is of greater concern is the increasing number of bigger fires that are occurring principally because of high fuel loadings and the inability of ground crews to respond before these fires develop," Mr Wiese said.


    "Because of the urban sprawl, many fires pose a serious threat to life and property, including the fire fighters themselves.


    "While our fire fighters limit the vast majority of fires to under four hectares in size, about 10 per cent of bushfires average more than 100 hectares. These bigger fires account for about 90 per cent of the suppression costs and most of the property losses.


    "For example, the tragic Chidlows fire earlier this year destroyed property estimated at $2.5 million, direct suppression costs of $50,000, indirect costs of $250,000 and almost 12,000 hours of time donated by volunteers.


    "Three major fires in the Gnangara pines in the past two years have cost around $7 million in terms of suppression costs and lost revenue."


    Mr Court said aerial fire fighting techniques had to be regarded as another strike weapon in the fire fighter's arsenal.


    "We cannot emphasise strongly enough that the community at large must bear a reasonable share of the responsibility for preventing wildfires and minimising their impact when they inevitably occur," he said.


    Mr Wiese said the fire agencies had prepared an extensive training program for the months leading up to the trial, which would involve briefing career and volunteer fire fighters as well as training officers in aerial fire fighting operations.


    Media contact: Casey Cahill 222 9595