Australia — WA’S daredevil waterbomber pilots are standing down after successfully attacking more than 120 fires this summer.
Flying metres over raging flames, through thick smoke and burning embers is all part of a day’s work for the nine pilots who man four waterbomber bases which dot Perth, the South-West and Albany. “I have often said it is like flying into hell,” pilot Phillip Dunn, of Dunn Aviation, said.
“There is a lot of smoke and a lot of flames.
“When you do a direct attack on a roaring head fire, it can be quite challenging.
“It can be quite daunting initially but we plan our approach and exit quite carefully.
“It’s certainly not everybody’s cup of tea and some people don’t last too long.
“Those who do stay really enjoy the job.
“From above, a fire is like a living animal consuming everything in its path.
“Fighting a fire like this takes a lot of concentration and you have to have your wits about you, but it beats sitting behind a desk in a multi-storey office building.
“It’s not dangerous but it has its moments and there are inherent hazardous.”
This summer waterbomber crews, with back-up from the ground and in the air, have helped fight some of the State’s largest fires.
A WA water bomber in action. Picture supplied by Leigh Sage, Department of Environment & Conservation, Swan Coastal District.
The bombers, which are jointly managed by the Department of Environment and Conservation and the Fire and Emergency Services Authority, were called in to combat last month’s rampant fires which threatened homes in Port Kennedy and Carabooda.
DEC fire operations officer Leigh Sage said the bombers played a vital role in fighting bushfires between Kalbarri and Esperance.
The eight planes were based at Jandakot Airport, Bunbury, Manjimup and Albany but were able to operate from a network of regional airfields.
They are used mainly to contain bushfires before they have a chance to blaze out of control but they are also have a vital role in protecting crews working on the ground and saving homes by bathing them in water laced with fire retardant foam.
“We aim to drop 5000 litres of water on to a fire in the first half-hour so that small fires stay small,” he said.
“Basically, the waterbombers attack the fire front and knock it down so that ground crews have time to get in and put it out.
“They are able to operate in remote areas which are often difficult to get to.
“We’ve had some good `saves’ where the waterbombers have been able to stop fires from reaching properties.
“They have proved extremely successful as a first response and continue to be an import part of the department’s fire fighting strategy.”
The bombers were stood down at the end of the summer fire season on Thursday.