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Bigger, faster aircraft arrive in Tasmania to reinforce firefighting capabilities after dry spell

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Bigger, faster aircraft arrive in Tasmania to reinforce firefighting capabilities after dry spell

By Linda Hunt

Updated December 14, 2015 11:55:30

A firefighting helicopter gives a demonstration

Photo: A Eurocopter demonstrates what it can do on an oval in Hobart as the new aircraft arrive for the fire season. (ABC News: Linda Hunt)

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Map: TAS

Two fixed-wing planes are among seven aircraft the Tasmania Fire Service has contracted ahead of the fire season as forecasters warn firefighters could be kept busy this summer.

Following a dry spring, forecasters say there is an above normal risk of bushfires across large areas of Tasmania this season.

Two AT802Air Tractors, two Bell 214B helicopters and three Eurocopters have arrived in Hobart in preparation.

The Air Tractors are capable of dropping about 3,200 litres of liquid, usually fire retardant or foam.

They're useful support for the fiefighters but they're also very specialised and expensive.

National Aerial Firefighting Centre general manager Richard Alder

Chief fire officer Gavin Freeman said the Air Tractors will enhance firefighting capabilities.

"They can get across the ground much quicker than a helicopter so we'll use the two types of aircraft in tandem," he said.

"The fixed wing will go first to try and hold the fire until the helicopters and fire crew get there."

The fleet is contracted through the National Aerial Firefighting Centre, which coordinates the sharing of resources around the country.

The centre's general manager Richard Alder was in Hobart this morning.

"They're useful support for the firefighters but they're also very specialised and expensive," Mr Alder said.

"By having the states and territories and the Federal Government cooperate, to come together to provide the resources across the country, we get basically the best result for firefighters and for taxpayers."

The total cost of providing aerial firefighting resources in Tasmania during the fire season is about $3 million, with the Tasmanian Government contributing about $2 million.

The 'hair raising' life of a water bomber pilot

Pilot Sam Borg is based in Sydney, but can find himself fighting fires anywhere in the country.

"It can be hair raising at times," he said.

"Because we have the freedom of air space we can pull out if it gets too hairy.

"Typically speaking you would avoid a situation where visibility is low and the turbulence is that bad. When you're fighting a fire, obviously you don't have the luxury of just flying through clean air all the time, because you've got to put the fire out," Mr Borg said.

"So often you put yourself into slightly more risky situations but they're all measured risks and we all want to come home at then end of the day."

A pool of 20 to 25 pilots trained for firefighting are rostered for four to six weeks at a time, in different locations around the country.

"We choose our pilots to come down here, perhaps the guys that have come down here [before]," Mr Borg said.

"Occasionally, we introduce new guys to firefighting in Tasmania, but we like to maintain consistency, because the guys know the lay of the land and understand how the fire services work down here."

Topics: fires, disasters-and-accidents, emergency-planning, tas

First posted December 11, 2015 15:57:18

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