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Victorian Bushfires - cost effectiveness of aerial fire-fighting [Bushfire CRC Ltd]

Kangaroo Island scrub fire, photo from CFS by Lisa Dalby, December 2007

In April 2009, Australia's leading bushfire research organisation, Bushfire CRC Ltd, published another important report 'THE COST-EFFECTIVENESS OF AERIAL FIRE-FIGHTING IN AUSTRALIA'
by Gaminda Ganewatta & John Handmer, via the Centre for Risk and Community Safety, RMIT University in Melbourne.

The report has examined the cost effectiveness of aerial fire suppression in Australia and has made the following important and most relevant findings, which cannot be ignored by fire authorities and their politically disposed masters:

1. "The use of ground resources with initial aerial support is the most economically efficient approach to fire suppression!"

2. "Aircraft are economically efficient where they are able to reach and knock down a fire well before the ground crew arrives!"

3. "Rapid deployment of aerial suppression resources is important, especially in remote or otherwise inaccessible terrain!"

4. "The sole use of aircraft is economically justified in the event of other suppression methods being unable to reach the fire event quickly!"

5. "Critical factors are speed of deployment and turnaround time!"

6. "Aircraft save more damage than they cost to operate, noting that high volume helicopters and fixed wing aircraft are economically more efficient in fire suppression, compared to small helicopters and large air tankers. Air tankers are less manoeuvrable compared to helicopters, thus their use in initial attack is not practical, unless used solely for large events!"

So while Brumby's Royal Commission is working towards finalising its investigation into the Victorian Bushfires, this presents an opportunity for Fire Management to harness such relevant bushfire research. Before next bushfire risk season key relevant bushfire research like this can be evaluated and the costs, budgets and business cases formulated to propose application to fire management operations.

But frankly can one lead a politicised brumby to water?

The following references provide useful illustrations and real life accounts of practical aerial fire fighting resource options out there (print them off and have a darn good read):

www.richard-seaman.com

'Helicopters: Stopping the Blazes'

Tigerquoll
[Licensed Commercial Helicopter Pilot]

Comments

Not sure which log you guys have been hiding under but Victoria has an extensive aircraft fleet for aerial firefighting and has had for several decades - by far the best and most well organised in the country. As the report says you need to get aircraft up fast to stop a fire. In the case of Black Saturday the only successful saves by aircraft in stopping the fire were 1 in Narrie Warren when an Aircrane "dropped in" on the way past and another in the Dandenongs when a Bell 205 was already airborne heading to another fire. In no circumstances on Black Saturday did an aircraft get dispatched from a standing start and stop a fire. In 98% of cases the aircraft could only undertake asset protection works (which they did well). It is totally unrealistic to have aircraft in the air just flying around waiting for a fire to start - particularly given the conditions of Black Saturday.

Try Googling "SAU Victoria" and you will find out all about the States comprehensive fleet.

Crawling out from the nearest log, a little bird has awoken me to my 17th July 2009 article 'Victorian aircraft capability', by an anonymous commenter dated 15th June 2011.
Two years later, I am glad I was not waiting up Mr Anonymous. Your antagonistic opening line of 'hiding under a log' is a tad hypocritical.
Your inept powers of persuasion almost make me want to crawl back to the warm moist log.

In response:

1. Giving 'anon' the benefit of the doubt, I did "try Googling "SAU Victoria" and I found the following options:

a. Victoria Sau, Mujeres en Red
- [ Translate this page ]
SAU, Victoria (Barcelona 1930) Licenciada en Psicología y en Historia Contemporanea y profesora de Psicología Diferencial en la Universidad de Barcelona. ...
www.mujeresenred.net/sau-victoria.html

b. SAU Victoria
SAU VIC Committee · - Club Contact information · - Membership information · - Sponsors & Supporters · - SAU VIC Constitution ...
www.sauvic.com.au/

c. www.skylinesaustralia.com/.../363168-2011-sau-vic-events-calendar/

Seems all a bum steer here!

So then addressing the tangible comments by our 'anon', which I list in turn:

Anon Claim 1: 'Victoria has an extensive aircraft fleet for aerial firefighting and has had for several decades - by far the best and most well organised in the country.'

Response from the log:
* If Victoria has an extensive aircraft fleet for aerial firefighting,
1. Where is the fleet based?
2. What is the fleet's record in responding to and extinguishing bushfires?
3. Why was the fleet not able to save 173 Victorians in February 2009?
4. If it is "far the best and most well organised in the country" why does it not have a website?

Anon Claim 2: 'As the report says you need to get aircraft up fast to stop a fire.'

Response from the log:
* Yes agreed, properly equipped aircraft are inherently faster and more flexible in suppressing bushfires in remote country than fire trucks can be.

Anon Claim 3: 'In the case of Black Saturday the only successful saves by aircraft in stopping the fire were 1 in Narrie Warren when an Aircrane "dropped in" on the way past and another in the Dandenongs when a Bell 205 was already airborne heading to another fire. In no circumstances on Black Saturday did an aircraft get dispatched from a standing start and stop a fire.'

Response from the log:
1. Since the CFA knew that the bushfire index was off the risk scale to an unprecedented level, why did it decide on business as usual preparedness and response?
2. How many bushfire equipped and ready aircraft were sourced and put on operational standby by the CFA on 6th and 7th January 2009 ahead of this known catastrophic bushfire risk condition? What percentage increase did this number represent over and above standard conditions?
3. How many aircranes were available to the CFA at the time?
4. If aircranes were deemed the most effective early response to bushfire then given the unprecedented bushfire risk conditions, were not more sourced and deployed?

Anon Claim 4: 'In 98% of cases (Black Saturday) the aircraft could only undertake asset protection works (which they did well).'

Response from the log:

1. Why?
2. When risk of uncontrolled wildfire is apparent, why was the bushfire management strategy in response to Black Saturday to 'only undertake asset protection works', knowing that extreme uncontrolled wildfire allowed to build and rage in natural forest, would within hours engulf human assets downwind?

Anon Claim 5: It is totally unrealistic to have aircraft in the air just flying around waiting for a fire to start - particularly given the conditions of Black Saturday.

Response from the log:
If it is 'totally unrealistic' to have aircraft in the air just flying around waiting for a fire to start, then when is the CFA and bushfire management declaring defeat in being able to fight serious wildfire and being unable to protect human lives and property, as well as high conservation value natural assets? If so, it needs to publicly declare this, in which case it should be immediately dismissed as under-resourced, incompetent and useless.

Question: If a dozen spotter aircraft had been deployed to monitor ignitions across know high risk bushfire areas of Victoria at this time of extreme bushfire risk on Black Saturday, could the ignitions have been detected faster than relying upon public calls to 000, and could the response have been more targeted, and could the suppression timing been more effective, so as to reduce the wildfire catastrophe?

Fire fighting agencies that do not fight fire effectively have no validity. They may as well go to the pub and grant respect to residents who already know that:

In the event of bushfire, fight your own fires!

Tigerquoll
Suggan Buggan
Snowy River Region
Victoria 3885
Australia

1 - website is there and works quite well!

2 - Fleet of approximately 40 aircraft is based across the state and is detailed on the web site.

3 - This 889k PDF document details what the aircraft fleet do and how much they cost.

4 - About 10 extra aircraft were brought on on Black Saturday. Anybody who knows anything about firebombing aircraft knows they have little ability to stop fires in Black Saturday conditions - doesn't matter how many you have. The response was far from business as usual.

5 - On black Saturday a number of aircraft could not fly due to weather conditions.

6 - The whole story is in Royal Commission documents on the web if you have a look. Fact is aircraft saved a lot of lives and millions of dollars worth of assets on Black Saturday. Just because John Fein or Neil Mitchell didn't say so doesn't mean it didn't happen. You would do well to remove yourself from your liability of ignorance.

7- Unfortunately you too have been sucked in by media and politicians in believing that aircraft or CFA or anybody else can put out all the fires and keep the world a safe place for everybody. Fact is they can only help and individuals need to take responsibility for their own safety.