Night fire suppression back for this summer

9 September 2018

This summer, Victoria is working to have night fire suppression as part of its firefighting arsenal.

After the success of an Australian-first trial last summer which simulated fire and proved it could be done safely, this summer's focus is working with the fire agencies and the providers to develop and test safety procedures and training in order to allow night time aerial firefighting. 

The two night fire suppression enabled helicopters will be based in Ballarat and Mangalore. These aircraft and the crew will have the potential to respond to any area across the State – but only in the right circumstances and on the right fires.

Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp said it was important to understand that safety considerations remained the key to this second phase of the night fire suppression trial.

"Remembering that we have not used night vision goggles or enabled aircraft on uncontrolled fires yet in Victoria, we still have a lot to learn and the first consideration will always be safety of our pilots, ground crews and community," he said.

"There are only a couple of these helicopters available to us, so it is a finite tool in Victoria’s toolbox for the summer. Night fire suppression activities will support the great work our fleet and pilots already do during the day." 

Depending on where the fire is, the night flying helicopters must have been to the area during the day in order to operate during the night to identify hazards, water supply and where the fire might potentially spread to.

Where appropriate, night operations will be used as an extension of the day operations, meaning aircraft will be able to assist ground crews on fires for longer.

The ability to undertake night operations means emergency services can take advantage of generally milder fire behaviour compared to during the day, including lower temperatures, higher humidity and lighter winds. However, due to fatigue considerations, night flying won't exceed five hours total at a time. 

"This is such an exciting opportunity for Victoria and Australia, and the project managers in Emergency Management Victoria and those from across the sector locally and nationally should be really proud of what has been achieved," he said.

Two aviation firebombing providers based in Victoria gained approval to conduct night time firebombing operations, after successfully completing an Australian-first trial this year. Victoria continues to work through the requirements for night fire suppression on behalf of other states and territories.

A series of training and briefing forums will be rolled out as part of phase two of the trial across the state in the lead up to summer.

Victoria has a contracted fleet of 49 aircraft over summer with a mix of fixed wing and helicopters including two Large Airtankers (LATs) and two orange Aircranes. Around 100 more aircraft are accessible on a call when needed list.