Taking the fire fight to the air


As the thermometers start peaking and the grass starts drying, the NSW Rural Fire Service is gearing up for a busy bushfire season.

View the Cowra Guardian story

Recent rainfall across the central west has resulted in an increased fuel load on the ground, and Cowra RFS inspector Arthur Sharp urges farmers to take care when harvesting.

"We've already been called out to a fire that was caused when a header caught on fire when it was stripping canola,' he said,

Fred Fahey from Fred Fahey Aerial Services is well-prepared for this year's fire season.

Fred Fahey from Fred Fahey Aerial Services is well-prepared for this year's fire season.

"Luckily canola doesn't burn very well, it just smoulders, they're lucky that they weren't stripping wheat."

Fighting fires is a blend of on ground and aerial techniques to help give the fire-fighters an advantage.

Fred Fahey has been fighting fires from the air since the early 1970's and it was a role that he fell into when he was spraying and fertilising crops. Now though the technology used is far more advanced than it was in the seventies.

"We used to do it for our clients in the high country, if they had a fire they'd call us up and we'd go out with just the smaller agricultural planes that we had and spray them with water," he said

"Now if I get sent out the RFS in Sydney can track where we're going, we send them photographs immediately of the fire and all that intelligence is sent back to the local control centres and the ground crews.

"Our role as aerial fire-fighters is to keep a small fire, small. We may not be able to put it out completely, but we can contain it and the ground crews can mop it up. That's the ideal scenario anyway."

His Air Tractor 802 planes have a four hour flying time and hold three tonnes of gel and water. The gel is used because as Fred says, water by itself is fairly useless.

"Water just evaporates," he said, "Mix the gel with it and it spreads further, covers a greater area, and stays there for hours and hours."

Although his service is contracted with the NSW RFS, he has been called far and wide.

"Last year we were fighting the fires for a week in the Adelaide Hills when it was raining here, but we go wherever the NSW RFS ask us to go."

Fighting in mountainous terrain has it's challenges including updrafts, power-lines and low-visibility and this year Fred's son Rory will be joining the crew of three full-time pilots for his first bush-fire season.

"It should be pretty good. We've been doing a bit of practice up in the hills over the last few weeks, dropping full loads and hitting the targets," Rory said.