Premier Richard Court said Operation Firebird, the State Government's aerial bushfire-fighting trial, could prevent millions of dollars worth of fire damage and help protect firefighters.
The three-month trial to be conducted over the peak fire season, will evaluate the role and effectiveness of 'water bombers' to combat bushfires in the outer metropolitan area, especially along the Darling Scarp and pine plantations around Wanneroo.
Mr Court and Emergency Services Minister Bob Wiese today announced that a Western Australian-based company, Tactical Aviation Australia, had been awarded the contract for Operation Firebird.
Operation Firebird is being co-ordinated by the Department of Conservation and Land Management and involves officers and crews from the WA Fire and Rescue Service, the Bush Fires Board and local volunteer brigades.
"This is a major initiative which reflects the State Government's commitment to strengthen resources needed to combat wildfires, especially in high-risk areas," Mr Court said.
"Fires around the fringes of the metropolitan area cause millions of dollars worth of damage to property and place a huge workload on the volunteer firefighters of both the Bush Fires Board and the Fire and Rescue Service."
Mr Court said fires in the Hills area and the pine plantations to the north of the city accounted for more than half the number of fires on the conservation lands managed by CALM.
"It is of major concern that the great majority of these fires were caused by arson and authorities are applying considerable effort to catch those responsible," he said.
Under the contract, two planes will be on permanent standby between December and March. The aircraft will be based at Perth Airport and can be despatched within five minutes of a bushfire being detected.
The planes, Dromader M-18A's, carry 3100 litres of water-foam mix which is highly effective in suppressing moderate intensity fires. They also can use short, unsealed airstrips.
The planes have state-of-the-art satellite navigation and communications equipment which enables them to drop water, foam or retardant very accurately.
Mr Wiese said three fire agencies would work with Air Services Australia Fire Rescue Service, which would provide the primary ground support for the planes at Perth Airport. Arrangements also had been made with the Air Force to provide support from Pearce Air Base when needed.
"Aerial fire fighting techniques are most effective in the very early stages of a fire," Mr Wiese said.
"Water bombers do not replace conventional strategies and tactics, especially the use of ground crews.
"But they do give ground forces a better chance to mount a direct attack before a fire can develop."
Mr Wiese said the Government was committed to strengthening resources for combating wildfires in the outer metropolitan area.
"However, the most effective measure that can be taken against damaging bushfires is for the community at large to realise and acknowledge that they also have a major role to play in preventing wildfires and minimising their impact when they inevitably occur," he said.
An extensive training program in the use of aerial fire fighting techniques begins this week for officers and crews from CALM, Fire and Rescue, Bush Fires Board, volunteer brigades and Air Service Australia.
Media Contact: Casey Cahill 222 9595