Variety of aircrafts ready to protect the state this fire season

By Myles Peterson

As Friday and the weekend shape up to be the first big tests of the region’s fire season, Emergency Management Victoria launched its ‘‘summer aviation fleet’’ yesterday.

Victoria has at its disposal 49 aircraft and can call on another 50 from interstate if needed.

CFA Shepparton district operations officer Charlie Cleary said a firefighting-equipped helicopter stationed at Shepparton airport could be launched at a moment’s notice.

‘‘It can be called at any stage, but it’s also under the predetermined dispatch. That means that any fire that comes in where the fire danger rating is above 12, it automatically responds,’’ he said.

‘‘It’s like the third truck out the door, so to speak, and in some cases, it’s the first out the door.’’

Emergency Management Victoria marked the launch of its aviation fleet with a flyover at Avalon airport by its newest addition ‘‘Christine’’ — an Erickson air crane.

The fleet, made up of 22 fixed wing aircraft and 27 helicopters, includes a mix of water bombing, supervision and intelligence gathering aircraft.

Drones will also be deployed.

Two of the craft are equipped with night vision, the first time such capabilities have been made available.

Emergency Management Victoria commissioner Andrew Crisp said the state was expanding the use of night vision for firebombing and intelligence gathering.

‘‘Night firebombing in Victoria will be used as an extension of day operations, meaning aircraft will be able to assist ground crews on fires for longer,’’ he said.

‘‘The two large air tankers will be available to respond to fires in Victoria from (today). Our air crane Christine will be joined by Delilah, our second air crane in mid-December.’’

The CFA is expecting the craft to be called on quickly, with chief officer Steve Warrington sounding a warning about the unusually dry weather this spring, one of the top 10 driest since records started in 1900.

‘‘This season still has the potential to be in line with Victoria’s driest fire seasons,’’ he said.

‘‘Some areas of the state, particularly in Gippsland, are extremely dry and will need many weeks of above-average rain before drought-stressed plants start to recover.

‘‘While the recent rain has made fuel less flammable in the short-term, the current weather outlook indicates a return to dry conditions and elevated fire risk.’’

The region’s Fire Danger Period started the earliest it has in two decades when it began in October and will run through to May 1, reflecting the unusually dry conditions.

The next two days have been allocated very high fire danger ratings, with temperatures expected to top 40 °C on Friday.