Nation on alert as bushfires spread, Gillard warns NSW residents to be vigilant

Water bombing not sufficient to fight bushfires

09 January 2013

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Australia — WOULDN’T it be wonderful if solving Australia’s bushfire problem was as easy as hiring a fleet of Canadian water bombers (“Water bombers will get the support of airline crew”, 8/1). Unfortunately, the reality is not that simple.

Geoffrey Luck’s presumption that Australia has not already heavily invested in aerial fire-fighting “like the rest of the world” is simply naive (“Fire support from air long overdue”, 7/1). Similarly, his assertion that more water bombing can substantially remove the need for ground-based fire crews is misguided, given that bushfires are at best held in check, but never extinguished, by water bombing. The effectiveness of the large water bombers being advocated by Luck relies on proximity to very large water bodies.

However, unlike Canada, these are few and far between in mainland Australia, particularly during the height of summer, when our largest dams are being drained for irrigation.

For example, Luck mentions the close proximity of Lake Eildon to the 2009 Black Saturday fires, but forgets that it was 90 per cent empty at the time. The truth is that water bombing can complement on-ground firefighting efforts.

Under some bushfire circumstances it is very useful, while under severe wind and smoke conditions, it may be virtually useless.

Mark Poynter, Institute of Foresters of Australia, Doncaster East, Vic

THE suggestions from Geoffrey Luck and letter-writers could be further improved by using satellite technology to spot fires as they start and send a single water bomber to douse it before it really gets going. A smaller squadron could be hired for the season.

Had that been done for the Canberra fires, 500 homes could have been saved. Everybody knew the fires were there but nothing seemed to be done about it apart from some pontificating by various people.

Bob Hailstones, Indooroopilly, Qld

EVERY big bushfire sees self-appointed experts coming out of the woodwork with advice about how to tackle the problem.

No number of trucks, water bombers or volunteers in yellow overalls makes any difference to “catastrophic” bushfires. These fires run their course until the wind and temperature drop. At this point it is possible to round them up (by backburning) and the fire scene is contained.

Volunteers are banned from speaking to the media and only self-serving propaganda is fed to the gullible press.

Privately, grassroots firefighters tell it differently. They complain most about the lack of delegation of decision-making powers to the local bush-wise captains. Year after year, they are refused permission to burn off the scurb to reduce fire-fuel. This is the only way to stop repeats of what we have seen over the past few days.

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