Firebomber squadron deployed for south-west fire season

EXTRA firefighting aircraft are on standby across the south-west to battle blazes in remote national parks and grass land. 

Fixed-wing firebombers have been placed at airfields in Hamilton and Casterton to keep an eye on Green Triangle timber plantations, as well as the Grampians National Park. 

Two aircraft were based separately at the airfields last year. 

CFA Barwon South West regional director Bob Barry said authorities would use a new method of flying dual bombers into a fire to dump more than 1000 litres each. 

“There will be two aircraft situated together (at each airfield) so they can make a dual attack on any fire,” Mr Barry said. 

Firebombers played a crucial role in stopping fires across the south-west last year, saving homes in West Portland from the Cashmore fires. 

“The waterbombers we used in Cashmore were instrumental in stopping the fires pushing into Portland,” Mr Barry said.

“They are particularly effective in the early stages of a fire.” 

Mr Barry said extra planes or helicopters would be moved into the region on high-risk days, if approved by the state’s emergency controller. 

“There’s also a bomber based in Stawell … and when it comes online we’ll have a helitak based out of Colac,” Mr Barry said. 

Grassland between Mortlake and Geelong, as well as the Otways, are the main concerns for firefighters. But the fire chief said vegetation was drying out “across the board”. 

“Anything north of the Hamilton Highway is starting to dry out rapidly but that will move south,” he said. 

Department of Environment and Primary Industries chief fire officer Alan Goodwin said 42 aircraft, including 13 fixed-wing firebombers, would be deployed across Victoria. 

“Fixed-wing firebombers have proven very effective in previous years, where we have used them to contain grasslands and cereal crop fires, and forest fires in the Grampians and north-eastern alpine areas,” Mr Goodwin said. 

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