Night firebombing ready for operations

9 December 2018

In an Australian first, Victoria’s night firebombing capability is officially ready to be deployed.

On Friday, one of the night fire certified operators in Victoria, Coulson Aviation, had helicopters come on contract at Ballarat as part of this summer’s Phase 2 trial into night fire suppression operations in Victoria. Another certified helicopter for night fire operations, through Kestrel Aviation, will be based at Mangalore and operating from 19 December.

This summer the focus of the night fire suppression trial is to test procedures and operation on real fires.

While the night fire suppression-enabled helicopters are based at Ballarat and Mangalore, they can operate across Victoria. 

The accredited helicopters and crew will go to fires that are determined to be appropriate to continue the testing. The night fire crews must undertaken surveillance of the fire in the daylight to understand the terrain, determine any obstacles and operate from suitable water supplies near the fire.

Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp said this milestone was two years in the making.   

Phase 1 of the trial last summer was to gain the approval through the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) to conduct night fire operations. Phase 2 has been focussed on enabling the transition from staged fire and water drops to real fires.

Mr Crisp said Victoria was proud to lead the trial on behalf of other states, but that safety was the priority.

“‘This will extend our daylight firefighting capability into the night time but this will be undertaken cautiously,” he said. 

“Victoria must have a crawl, walk, run mentality as we work through what is required to undertake night fire suppression safely and most effectively.

“It’s exciting to have this in place for the summer. However it doesn’t mean we have 24/7 capability. It does mean we can consider using night fire suppression on fires that could run at night-time and cause further damage.”

Project Manager Wayne Rigg said Friday was the first time a night fire suppression crew was on shift ever in Australia. 

“This is another milestone for the trial and the culmination of more than two years of approvals, training and preparation for us,” he said.

“This summer we’ll be working with incident managers and ground crews to determine the most appropriate fires for night fire suppression operations but our focus is on improving outcomes for communities.”

Mr Rigg said the crew was requested to be ready to deploy to Friday's Little River fire in preparation for the predicted wind change which was due after dark. 

As part of the operating requirements, the Coulson Aviation helicopter undertook a daytime scan of the fire area and returned to Lethbridge Airport in readiness for deployment if control lines were breached at any stage.

While the control lines held on the Little River fire and night fire operations was not required, Mr Rigg said it was an example of what could be done. 

Night fire suppression has not been undertaken in Australia before. Victoria is partnering with the National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC), Civil Aviation Safety Authority, CFA and Forest Fire Management Victoria on the trial.  

Since November additional testing, training, briefings and ensuring operational procedures are in place and ready to be deployed to real fires has been the focus.

Training will continue each week to progress skills and experience and to develop the capability.