Australia — Victoria will have an extra weapon in the fight against bushfires this summer in the form of a multi-million dollar water bomber.
The jet will be able to soak a bushfire covering more than one kilometre in one hit, and will be able to reach any area within 45 minutes.
The jet will be leased over the summer and will most likely be a modified 747 or DC 10.
A Government spokeswoman says it will be able to carry up to 70,000 litres of water or fire retardant, which is 10 times the amount carried by the Elvis skycrane.
It will be similar to the Russian jets that were rejected by the Government after the Black Saturday fires.
The jet is expected to be housed at Melbourne or Avalon airport, with special infrastructure needed to be fitted to accommodate the aircraft.
The Government sees the jet as a key asset in the fight against a fire season that is expected to be as bad as – if not worse than – the last one, during which 173 people died.
The Victorian Opposition has welcomed the Government’s move to lease the bomber, but says it has been left too late to get into the tender process for the aircraft.
But Emergency Services Minister Bob Cameron has denied that.
“This is not late at all. What it will mean is that we will have this aircraft from January through to the end of March,” he said.
“What we want is a very large aerial firebomber. There’s only limited choices in the market, so we’re expecting to receive bids from everyone.”
Opposition bushfire response spokesman Peter Ryan says it is a major turnaround by Premier John Brumby.
“The Premier was absolutely dismissive of the use of any such aircraft when we put forward this proposition, because the Russians had offered three Ilyushin aircraft back at Black Saturday or soon after,” he said.
“I think the Government does need to explain why it is the Premier rejected this proposition when now we find out they were apparently in discussions with the Federal Government about doing just this.”