Western Australia ramps up aerial firefighting capacity

Western Australia’s aerial firefighting fleet can fly further and for a much longer period than ever before, thanks to a new well-equipped Dauphin helicopter with advanced hazard-mapping technology.  Known by its callsign “Firebird 661”, the aircraft will boost WA’s aerial surveillance and reconnaissance capability, with targetted availability of up to 306 days per year compared to the previous 110-day fixed service.

The new helicopter provides a higher speed and longer range platform when compared with earlier rotary craft, with 300 kilometres of additional deployment range from Perth’s Jandakot Airport. The Dauphin has HD television and infrared thermal imaging capability to allow crews to see through smoke to map fires, and detect ember attacks and hotspots. Analysts will use the data to generate maps in real-time, giving firefighters on the ground the edge in the fire fight.

Emergency Services Minister Francis Logan and Environment Minister Stephen Dawson launched the State’s aerial fleet for the 2018-19 bushfire season on 28th December at the event pictured above.  The joint Department of Fire and Emergency Services and the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions aerial fleet consists of 28 rotary and fixed wing aircraft and the Erickson S64 Aircrane ‘Georgia Peach’, which made its return to Perth’s skies yesterday.  The fleet, which is based throughout the state, is jointly funded by the State Government and the Federal Government through the National Aerial Firefighting Centre.

Emergency Services Minister Francis Logan said “The 2018-19 aerial fleet’s sophisticated new generation surveillance technology will put us ahead of the game in mapping fires and predicting how they might develop. This will greatly boost the State’s capacity to try to keep Western Australians safe this coming bushfire season. This season’s fleet – including the massive ‘Georgia Peach’ Aircrane – can drop around 300,000 litres of water per hour, or the equivalent of three large backyard swimming pools. Each of the aircraft in the fleet plays a crucial role in stopping the spread of fire in the early stages, but there will never be as many helicopters or fire trucks as there are houses. Fire can be an extremely powerful force so the WA community needs to be prepared, and I would urge Western Australians to take five minutes now and visit firechat.wa.gov.au to make a bushfire plan.”

Environment Minister Stephen Dawson added “Bushfires are now an inevitable part of the Western Australian summer and for more than 20 years the State Government’s aerial suppression measures have been protecting life and property from the devastating effects of bushfires. Using aerial and ground resources, the State Government continues to make significant efforts to reduce the amount of fuel firefighters have to confront in a bushfire. Since July 1, 2018, the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions has undertaken almost 90,000 hectares of prescribed burning across its three south-west forest regions. This builds on the 218,000 hectares of burning it achieved in 2017-18. I would like to extend my sincere thanks on behalf of the people of WA to firefighters from DBCA’s Parks and Wildlife Service, DFES, local brigades and volunteers. Your efforts are greatly appreciated, thank you for helping keep our community safe.”

Jeremy Parkin