The reality of a bushfire in the Northern Suburbs has sent a shockwave through the local community, and the Rural Fire Service is urging us to formulate a Bushfire Action Plan NOW.
The Maddens Plains fire is believed to have been sparked by arcing power lines, and spread quickly under prevailing Westerly winds. When the Southerly hit, the fire became erratic, and managed to burn out more than 300 hectares before it was brought under control on Saturday afternoon, thanks to cooler weather conditions.
But not before the blaze lipped the escarpment at Coledale, providing an incredible spectacle as the air cranes sucked water from the ocean to drop on the blaze with pinpoint accuracy, stopping the fire entering the residential areas below. Meanwhile a DC10 firefighting aircraft was deployed from Richmond and flew the blaze north to south, spraying thousands of litres on the blaze in four separate drops.
Meanwhile crowds gathered along Lawrence Hargrave Drive at Coledale to watch, heartened by the success of the helicopters as they smashed each show of flame.
The helicopters were called back on Monday when one of the spot fires above Morrison Avenue took hold. The blaze was in inaccessible terrain at the top of Cater Street and quickly caught hold. But again they were able to douse the area and extinguish most of the fire. There was a small section under a rocky outcrop that proved impossible to water bomb, so the crews managed to saturate the surrounding area, giving the fire nowhere to go.
The Northern Illawarra is not a conventional residential area. Many homes are nestled amongst the trees. Many are at the end of long driveways, and many are squished up against the railway line, which begs the questions, how would we really protect our homes in the event of a bushfire when it’s impossible to get a fire truck into so much of our region?
And while the helicopters seem the logical answer, the Rural Fire Service is urging us not to become complacent.
It’s easy to have watched the amazing airshow, as the helicopter sucked water from the ocean then drowned the fire from above, and think that’s how it would work should a fire start in local bushland. But RFS Illawarra Inspector Michael Grey says that may not be possible.
“We were fortunate on Friday and Saturday to have the aircraft come to assist. We are mindful of the impact of fire on the Northern Illawarra community, and also on the environment. We know there is plenty of vegetation and environmental issues in that part of the world and those aircraft assisted greatly in protecting it.”
The helicopters came from Bankstown and Illawarra Regional airports. Most of the pilots are international contractors who spend our winter in the US and Canada fighting fires, and the rest of the year fighting blazes across Australia.
The DC10 Air tankers flew in from Richmond RAAF Base, which is where they refill. In the case of the Maddens Plains fire, they each did one flight, however they are able to drop their watery load in four segments, so did four drops before heading back to the Hawkesbury.
The helicopter pilots wielded their hanging buckets with ease, hitting visible flame with incredible accuracy.
“These guys are experts,” says Inspector Grey. “We are fortunate to have them here to assist us during Summer, sharing their knowledge and skill, assisting us protect our community. As you can imagine, it’s a role that takes a lot of practice and expertise.
He says there are also locally-based chopper pilots who worked on the blaze, and who are equally skilled at manoeuvring a fire-fighting aircraft.
Incredibly, the Skycranes can drop up to 8000 litres on a fire, while the other helicopters can drop 1000. The pilots can control the amount of water they release from their bucket as well as the spray-pattern.
“The Maddens Plains fire is a timely reminder we live in a bushfire-prone area. We need to be mindful of where we live and with the existing dry conditions and no rain in the foreseeable future, we may see more fires like we did on Friday afternoon.
“Aircraft is another tool we use to reduce the impact of fire,” he says,”But we are urging people not to become complacent. RFS ground crew still do the majority of the work to control a blaze.
“While those aircraft are valuable, there is no guarantee they can be here for future fires. They may already be deployed at blazes elsewhere in NSW, or interstate.
“So our community needs to be prepared. Each household needs a Bushfire Survival Plan. Families and communities need to know what they will do in the event of a bushfire. What they will take, where they will go, how they will get there- and what they will do if the road is closed.
“This needs to be talked about and organised BEFORE a critical situation arises. So I’m urging everyone to make a plan as soon as possible. Hopefully you will never have to use it, but everyone feels better, and safer when they know there’s a plan in place.” If you need help, have a look HERE
And if you’re looking for information on the location of bushfires ‘Fires Near Me’ is a brilliant app giving you the location and condition of surrounding bushfires.
You can also view the website HERE
Fire photo thanks to RFS
Water bombing photo thanks to John Merritt via Instagram