Australia — The Department of Sustainability and Environment is taking advantage of ideal weather conditions by igniting controlled burns in the Enfield State Forest as part of its fuel reduction program.
At the same time, researchers are trialling the effectiveness of the DC-10 air tanker and the retardant it drops over the planned burn.
The Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre is compiling results on the retardant’s effectiveness in different terrain, varying conditions and from different heights.
CFA project operations manager Stephen Walls says because the DC-10 has only been used once operationally this fire season, the trial on controlled burns will test how well the retardant can stop fire.
“The DC-10 project is evaluating whether this very large air tanker is suitable for Victorian conditions.”
He says the DSE’s several hundred hectare burn in the forest is important to protect communities around Enfield.
“In this occasion it’s being used as part of the evaluation program for the DC-10, so it’s killed two birds with one stone.”
Bushfire CRC deputy CEO Richard Thornton says they are working with the CSIRO to evaluate all of the plane’s trial drops.
“They’re in the process of taking all of the data out of those fires and practice runs and bringing them together so we that can compare how the aircraft works in different terrains and vegetation types, whether it’s grassland or forested areas like today.”
The DC-10 dropped a 42,000 litre load of retardant into the burning area today.
Mr Thornton says the DC-10 tanker is far bigger than water bomber helicopters in size and the retardant operates in a different way to water.
“Water tends to be laid down on flames and just in front of flames. Retardant, as its name suggests, helps to stop the fire from progressing rather than water which tries to put it out.
“The retardant is a chemical which stops the combustion process, so it acts as a barrier.”
Mr Thornton says researchers will be analysing helicopter footage, checking how much retardant got through trees to ground fuel and whether or not the fire penetrated the retardant.
The sight of a large passenger airliner flying through the forest attracted some members of the public.
Sue from Enfield says there is too much leaf litter around the state forest and it’s comforting to know that the DSE is conducting prescribed burns.
“I went through a bushfire in about 95 or 96, and we all had to evacuate.
“We want to see how good this is going to be if we’re stuck in this situation again.”
She says while she welcomes the burns, people from the area get nervous when they see smoke coming from the forest.
“Yesterday I had to put something on Facebook to tell everyone there is a controlled burn out here and don’t panic, because you end up with vehicles out ready to evacuate your house every time there is a fire.”