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Attacking fires from the air


By Jessica Howard

Moorabool has been in good hands this summer, with a firefighting helicopter based at the Bacchus Marsh Airfield.

The Helitack 345 is a type two medium aircraft that is part of a pre-determined dispatch system, meaning it can respond to fires at the same time as firefighters on the ground.

CFA District 15 Operations Officer, Gavin Hope said the helicopter had been called out to 21 jobs in January and, at the time of writing, two in February.

He said on January 18, the helicopter was dispatched to a fire that was running into the Werribee Gorge, between Ballan and Bacchus Marsh.

“The fire was caused by a person angle grinding on a nearby building site,” Mr Hope said.

“The person was cutting concrete and unluckily hit a piece of wire within the concrete, which created the sparks that started the fire. It was accidental and not malicious, and the helicopter served well in getting that under control”.

Five-days later, the helicopter attended another fire in Little River.

Mr Hope sad the fire was located on the highest peak of granite ridges located at You Yangs Regional Park.
He said the helicopter, which carries 1,400 litres of water, was able to fly above the peak and “drop the load of water in one hit”.

Other call outs included a fire on Colac-Forest Road on January 3; in Lovely Banks, near Geelong on January 29; and Durham Lead on February 3.

Mr Hope said the helicopter was also called out to a 250-hectare grass fire at Smeaton, near Ballarat on January 20.

“It’s definitely proving worthwhile,” he said.

“Due to the automatic dispatch system, the helicopter would sometimes get dispatched but then be called back in. However, the amount of times it was needed far outweighs the times that it wasn’t.

“The old system meant that we would wait for a brigade to get mobile and give the the word that smoke was starting to show. We’d have to wait for that confirmation before a phone call from Melbourne was made to the air base.

“Now, the helicopter pilots and crew carry the same pagers as our CFA members on the ground. The pagers go off at the same time and the helicopter gets up and away very quickly, sometimes even getting on the scene a lot quicker than the trucks”.

The Helitack covers Moorabool, as well as the region south to Geelong, grasslands to the west and north of Melbourne, the Wombat Forest and the southern edge of Macedon.

Mr Hope said the aircraft filled a very big gap in the region.

“We had a helicopter based in Ballarat, but the Helitack has filled the hole that was seen throughout Moorabool, Geelong, Colac and Werribee.

“It is serving these important regions while also coming in handy to help Ballarat when necessary”.

The Helitack will remain at the Bacchus Marsh Airfield for the remainder of summer, before being reviewed for the 2018/2019 period.