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In religion and politics, people’s beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second hand, and without examination, from authorities who have not themselves examined the questions at issue but have taken them at second-hand from other non-examiners, whose opinions about them were not worth a brass farthing. – Mark Twain


By Roger Underwood

DC-10-Bomber

Back in the summer of 1960/61, when I was training to become a forestry officer, I was unlucky enough to be caught up as a firefighter in the great bushfires of that year.  In the Dwellingup Fire, three towns were burnt out; a further town was burned out at Karridale, and in the lower southwest a massive fire took out thousands of hectares of beautiful karri forest south of Pemberton. This last fire was only contained when it ran into the southern ocean near Windy Harbour.

It was in the wake of these fires that I first began to glimpse the depth of the ignorance about bushfires that was then, and is still today, evident in Australian society. This was demonstrated by a series of letters to the editor published in the wake of those fires in The West Australian newspaper. In these, well-meaning citizens proposed solutions to the bushfire problem in south-west forests. Many of these suggestions were so outlandish as to be laughable – for example, one writer urged the government to construct low stone walls all through the forest, modelled on the drystone walls he had seen on the moors of Scotland. Another advocated the installation of a reticulated sprinkler system over millions of acres of forest.  How construction and maintenance of this system was to be funded, and where the water was to come from, were not explained.  Yet another suggestion was to line up hundreds of 44-gallon barrels of gunpowder across the fire front, to be discharged just as the fire arrived, blowing it out.

More recently, a Perth environmentalist proposed that the government station an army of firefighters permanently in the forest throughout the fire season, day and night. They would be so numerous, and so well placed, that any fire that started could be attacked and suppressed within minutes of starting. There was no suggestion as to how this army was to be recruited, trained, sustained in the field and paid for. Given that a fire in heavy fuels in the jarrah forest, even under normal summer weather conditions, can escalate from a spot fire to a crown fire in about fifteen minutes, I estimate that the number of firefighters needed to cover the two million hectares of forest would need to be of the order of 4 million men.

And only the other day I read a proposal, from a learned professor at the Australian National University, that the entire Australian forest estate be crisscrossed with parallel roads, two hundred metres or so apart, allowing the intervening strip to be regularly subjected to controlled burning, thus enabling wildfires to be contained in the low-fuel strips. No thought was given to the cost of building and maintaining the roads, especially in mountain country, let alone the fact that it would not work. Fires in heavy fuels in eucalypt forest can throw spot fires for kilometres, making any network of narrow, fuel-reduced strips just as meaningless as a low stone wall.

The modern equivalent of these stories are the calls for the government to increase its fleet of aerial water bombers, specifically the gargantuan DC10, or Very Large Air Tanker (VLAT). There are letters to the editor nearly every day for more and larger aircraft from retired politicians, callers to talk-back radio, representatives of the aviation industry and journalists. Water bombing aircraft are also beloved of the uniformed firemen who dominate our emergency services, because they are the ultimate expression of “wet firefighting”. Wet firefighting is fighting fires with water; uniformed firemen everywhere have been trained to know it is the only approach.

Thus, the water bomber is seen as the magic bullet, the answer to the bushfire maiden’s prayer.

Interestingly, nothing along these lines is heard from the land management fraternity (of which I am one). We advocate fire prevention and damage mitigation, with firefighting as the last resort, only needed when an effective land management program has broken down. We understand that forest fires must be fought “dry” — with bulldozers constructing fire lines, along which crews can move to contain and mop-up the fire edge. In this approach water is used for mopping up the fire edge, but not for constructing the edge, which (in forest country) it cannot do. We regard the growing reliance on water bombing as futile, foolish and wasteful.

Here I need to pause briefly and remind myself of the cautionary words of my father (who was a scientist, a philosopher, a teacher and a man of great tolerance): “Roger,” he admonished me one day when I was sounding off about something, “there is a big difference between being a fool and being misinformed”.

This is all very well. But when it comes to bushfires, the misinformed are now in charge, or they are subject to political influence and manoeuvring by lobby groups who have no interest in effective bushfire management, such as the Australian Greens and the aviation industry.  Misinformation thus leads to foolish decisions, and these in turn to  bushfire disasters.

Indeed, the calls for investment in more and bigger aerial water bombers rather than in effective pre-emption of bushfire damage is the classic demonstration of misinformed people making foolish proposals. Every experienced fire fighter in Australia (and in the USA and Canada) knows that water bombers can never control an intense forest wildfire.

Consider these factors:

  • Firstly, because of atmospheric turbulence and smoke, water bombing aircraft cannot get at the seat of a rampaging forest fire;  they must stand off from the head, and then the drop is evaporated by radiant heat well before the flames arrive;
  • Secondly, in tall, dense forest, the water drop often cannot penetrate the canopy in sufficient volume to make a difference – it is intercepted by the tree crowns. This occurred over and again in the recent fire in ash forest in the Otway Ranges in Victoria. The delivered water simply did not get to the ground.
  • Thirdly, water bombers cannot (or do not) operate at night and under high winds, the very conditions when the most damaging forest fires occur.  Three of the last four towns to burn in WA, and both towns that burned in Victoria in 2009, burned at night.
  • Fourth, water bombing is extremely dangerous for aircrew, as the aircraft are operating at low altitude, in uncontrolled airspace with poor visibility.  It is only a matter of time before there is a shocking accident and an aircrew fatality.
  • Water bombing can also be dangerous to people on the ground.  If the drop from a Very Large Air Tanker is made from only marginally too low, the huge tonnage of water is capable of smashing houses and vehicles and killing firefighters;
  • Fifth, water bombers use vast quantities of fresh water, probably one of the most precious resources in Australia, especially in Western Australia where the current drought is over 30 years in duration and reservoirs and ground water aquifers are drying up. Sea water could be used, provided the tankers have access to it, but dropping salt water onto catchment areas or farms would only add to the problems caused by the fire.

Finally, the whole business is obscenely expensive. The merest little helicopter water bomber costs a dollar a second for every second it is in the air, while the “Elvis” firecrane hired from the USA is about ten times more expensive. The Very Large Air Tanker operating out of NSW this year is said to cost nearly $50,000 an hour for every hour it is in the air, and not much less when it is simply on standby on the ground. And to this must be added the cost of the smaller aeroplane that flies ahead of the VLAT to mark its dropping target.

I have no idea what the “carbon footprint” of a VLAT is, as it has never been mentioned, especially by the environmentalists who are so enamoured of it, but it must be significant.

I am not completely against water bombing. I am happy to see a small number of light water bombers stationed around the southwest, because they can do useful work assisting ground crews in the control of relatively mild-intensity bushfires, and under some circumstances can “hold” a fire in a remote spot until the ground crews arrive, or can drench a house threatened by a grass fire. What I oppose is the ramping-up of the business to the extent we are now seeing in Australia, along with all the publicity that suggests this is not just a good thing, but is the responsible thing to do (when the opposite is the case).  And I hate the sheer waste involved, not just of dollars, but the futile dropping of precious fresh water onto a raging forest fire, making not one iota of difference.

How well I recall the most recent bushfire in Kings Park in Perth. The air was thick with water bombing helicopters and fixed wing aeroplanes, dropping load after load of water, but the fire was only contained when it ran into the Swan River. Remembering this reminded me of the words of Stephen Pyne, the world’s foremost bushfire historian and commentator:

“Air tankers are primarily political theatre, and only secondarily part of fire control. They have their place.  But they dislodge attention from truly effective measures”. 

Jerry Williams, probably the most respected forest fire manager in the USA has also commented on this issue:

“The airtanker has become a symbol in the public’s (and politician’s) minds.  At a meeting two years ago, a former hotshot [bushfire] superintendent was asked, based on his long experience, what was the effectiveness of airtankers?  As I remember, he said, generously, less than 30%.  That fits with my experience”.

My frustration over all this is made more acute by re-reading the analysis of the trials of the DC10 VLAT by the CSIRO.  After a number of water dropping trials, the CSIRO concluded:

  1. Most of the drops featured a distinct pattern of break-up of the drop cloud in which a series of alternating thick and thin sections could be seen. The resulting drop footprints exhibited a corresponding pattern of heavy and light sections of coverage. Many of the light-coverage sections within the footprints were observed to allow the fire to pass across them with minimal slowing of spread rates.
  2. Two drops delivered in open woodlands (as opposed to heavy forest) penetrated through the canopy and provided a good coverage of surface fuels. One of these drops rained gently through the canopy under the influence of a headwind. Another drop caused severe damage, snapping off trees …This drop could have potentially injured people or damaged buildings …

The CSIRO scientists also looked at the effectiveness of the DC10 dropping fire-retardant chemicals in the forest across the path of the headfire, a technique frequently recommended by supporters of aerial tankers. They concluded that this approach would only succeed for very low intensity fires, due to the ease with which a more intense fire would “spot” over the retardant line.

Overall, the CSIRO’s conclusion of this study was that:

…on the evidence collected, this aircraft is not suitable for achieving effective [bushfire] suppression under most Australian conditions

Unfortunately, the CSIRO did not look at the Western Australian situation, where there are significant operational constraints. As far as I know we have only two airfields in the south-west that the DC10 can use: Perth Airport, where it would compete for airspace with passenger jumbo jets, and the military airfield at Pearce, which is well north of the south-west forest zone, giving long ferry times between drops.  Furthermore, the operation of the DC10 requires a staff of over thirty, most of whom are doing nothing for most of the time.

During a fire attack, the VLAT is led in by a second aircraft, whose job is to mark the drop zone. This is further crowding the air space over the fire. Turn-around re-fuelling and water or retardant reloading of the VLAT between drops takes up to an hour on the ground … by which time the fire could already have outflanked the initial drop.

Despite all this, calls for the acquisition of a DC10 water bomber continue to come in thick and fast.

The explanation for this popularity was given to me by a chief in the Californian Fire Service with whom I became friends at an international conference on bushfires in Washington in 2011. There was not a single bushfire professional in the USA who supported the massive investment in aerial water bombing that has occurred in recent years, he said.  In the first place it was known that they were ineffective on anything but a relatively mild forest fire, and even then only operated as support to firefighters on the ground. In the second place, their cost was so great that every other part of the fire and forest management system had to be sacrificed to fund them.

On the other hand, my friend explained, the whole shebang had taken on a political and media life of its own. Nobody cared whether or not it was cost-effective; the important thing was that it made fantastic television and the politicians and emergency service chiefs who ordered them could bask in a glow of popular acclaim and adulation in the media. City people, with no bushfire experience or any understanding of the effectiveness of the water bombers, are seduced by their glamour and drama. Water bombing, as a friend remarked, is not firefighting but “theatre for the masses”.

As I write, the media support for water bombers in Australia is becoming almost hysterical. The Gold Medal goes to radio compere Ian McNamara of “Macca on a Sunday Morning” fame. He said it is a “no brainer” to have multiple air forces of water bombers stationed all over the country, the more the better.  Macca, of course, knows nothing about bushfire management, but he is influenced by the chattering classes, especially the Greens, who see the water bomber as a substitute for fuel reduction burning, which they hate.

Without doubt, the most insidious contribution to the water bombing issue comes from an alliance between the Australian aviation industry and journalists. The aviation industry sees the ramping-up of aerial firefighting as good business. They have no interest in its effectiveness; their game is to sell or hire more aircraft — the bigger and more expensive those aircraft, the better.  And they need no advertising program! This is provided for free by the Australian media.

There is also the question of political lobbying. In the US, the water bombing industry has become massively lucrative to the aviation firms who operate the aircraft. This puts the industry in a strong position to influence political decision-makers.  The aviation industry in Australia is not yet politically active (as far as I know), but it will not be long before they are blatantly buying political support. They will also be the first to oppose a proper cost/benefit study, especially one that looks at the effectiveness of water bombers in the fires that matter, i.e., those that kill people and destroy towns, and which burn at night or under the influence of strong winds.

The approach of the aviation industry is reprehensible, but understandable, because it is the way salesmen and business lobbyists always operate. What is not acceptable is the way the love affair between journalists and aerial water bombers is leading to terrible investment decisions by politician. Cost/effectiveness is never discussed. It is enough that water bombers make grand television and dramatic pictures.  Our local newspaper  in Western Australia rarely has a photograph of a firefighter these days.  Every fire story is accompanied by a picture of a water bomber, sweeping in overhead and ejecting its load of water. The West Australian newspaper also has aviation correspondent Geoffrey “Biggles” Thomas, who writes a regular column.  He is an unabashed supporter of the aviation industry, and blatantly promotes investment in more and bigger water bombers without a molecule of analysis of their effectiveness or costs.

I realise I am wasting my breath. With the adulation of the media, the lobbying of gullible politicians by the aviation industry, the support from populists like “Macca”, and the influence of the Greens and the uniformed firemen, the outcome is foregone. By next summer, Western Australia will be mimicking the basket-case jurisdictions in Victoria and NSW, and will be acquiring more helicopters, perhaps even the proven-to-be-useless and obscenely expensive DC10 hired in from America. All of this will be funded by a multi-million dollar budget. At the same time, resourcing of fuel reduction burning and other programs for improving bushfire prevention, damage mitigation and townsite protection, will languish.

I do remember my father’s words – you cannot call someone foolish who is merely misinformed. But in the bushfire world I have seen, too many times, the dangerous outcomes that flow when the misinformed make foolish decisions.

As I wrote elsewhere a year or so ago:

… the most fundamental tool of the bushfire manager is not the fire tanker, the bulldozer, or even the water bomber. It is the match. The only way to minimise fire intensity and damage is by reducing the amount of fuel before a fire starts. Military people refer to this approach as the pre-emptive strike … we call it fuel reduction.  

I also remind myself of the words of the great Victorian forester and administrator Alf Leslie. He had a favourite saying: “When it comes to public policy, stupidity nearly always wins”.

Never is this better illustrated than in the way our bushfire authorities and the greater community have been seduced by the glamour of the water bomber. This is the ultimate in stupid policy: a publicly funded program that is, at the same time, expensive and useless.

Roger Underwood is a retired forester and chairman of The Bushfire Front, a volunteer organisation dedicated to getting bushfire management in WA back on the rails

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13 thoughts on “Water Bombing and Magic Bullets

  • February 5, 2016 at 3:04 pm
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    Thankyou for a considered article on what is an important issue for bushfire fighters. As a member of a certain volunteer bushfire fighting agency, I can appreciate some of the concerns raised with regard to the VLAT concept.

    Perhaps, the relevance (or otherwise) for these types of systems could better be established if we had a clear understanding of how aerial fire fighting assets ought to be used and what their actual purpose is. As most fire fighter with their feet on the ground will usually appreciate the support of aerial assets, even though it is obscenely expensive. It must firstly be remembered that containment or complete extinguishment of a fire can never be reliably achieved with any aircraft. Whether big or small. The sole purpose of aircraft is reduce fire intensity, and aid fire fighters on the ground. At the end of the day. The fire is always going to be extinguished by a volunteer fire fighter using a McLeod Tool, or a hose line off of a 4WD tanker, or a drip torch.

    There are times when aerial assets can become invaluable. Which becomes the case in remote area fire fighting. In such instances, these remote area teams must walk to the fire, through dense undergrowth, on foot. Or they must be transported and possibly be winched in by helicopter. In such cases, the helicopter is not only the means of transport for ground crews, but, it is often the only means of getting water to the fire.

    Helicopter water bombing assets are usually much more effective in this role than their fixed wing counterparts. As their hovering capability allows them to precisely drop a bucket of water onto specific hotspots. During the mopping up phases of fire suppression.

    Other aerial assets, of the fixed wing variety, which can be effective and deserve mentioning are those like the AT-802F Air Tractor. Which is a single prop aircraft with seaplane floats, and capable of quickly refilling from any nearby lake or river. It is also small enough to make precise drops and aid these remote area fire fighting teams.

    There have been other incidents, which I was personally involved with, which were so fast moving that helicopters were the only method for keeping pace with the fire (as it was a very fast moving grass fire). Though, even in these situations the aircraft merely slowed the fire down, such that boots on the ground could achieve containment.

    As you will probably note. The small size of these aircraft types is the key to their success. The larger an aircraft is, the lower its effectiveness, and the fewer of which are likely to be deployed. Aerial fire fighting assets should generally be seen as a support tool for remote area fire fighting teams. Who fight the fire on foot. Which, in itself is a niche component of bushfire fighting… Although quite expensive and demanding, these remote area tactics can often be successful as a preventative measure. As the allow a small and remote bushfire to be extinguished, before it becomes a near and big one. Hence, this added cost of mobility can often be warranted.

  • September 12, 2018 at 11:07 am
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    It’s ok for the negative remarks from people who wouldn’t have a clue. You need to ask the people in towns and villages and fire fighters tasked to protect people and homes with all escape channels cut off faced with a massive wall of flames leaping out of the tops of the trees when a massive water bombing aircraft dumps its load allowing fire fighters to gain the upper hand

  • September 18, 2018 at 9:32 am
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    Ron
    Thanks for your comment. We don’t deny that aviation support is needed, BUT we are seeing massive fuel loads building year by year and the simple facts are:
    1. prevention is better than cure (be pro-active rather than re-active).
    2. we are seeing situations where property protection is provided by crews (and aircraft) standing by whilst the fire gains momentum.
    3. we are not managing land appropriately
    4. aviation has indeed become big business
    Regards
    Mick Holton

  • December 6, 2019 at 3:53 pm
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    Aerial fixed wing water bombing does work when the fire is small, in a national park and in a remote area. Some fires have been ‘left ‘ to burn and then got out of control and became massive. This is called neglect, particularly in our national parks. So called controlled burns have often caused huge tracts of destruction, loss of life and property, not to mention habitat loss.

  • December 11, 2019 at 11:06 am
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    I was talking to one of the Air Crane crew at one time and he did say that they try and pick up some mud in each load and they have swirl pumps in the tanks. That increases the density of the water load and aids in it reaching the ground without evaporating.

  • January 1, 2020 at 12:19 pm
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    Your article brings to the front the very important issue of land management and the necessity to keep fuel loads under control. This is becoming an increasingly big problem as more State Forest land is been taken away from forestry and handed over to National Parks. This is particularly evident in NSW around the Northern Rivers region were fires have been burning out of control for almost 3 months. When the land was careered for by forestry the maintenance of fire/forestry trails, the selective felling of trees, and removal of hazardous levels of dry undergrowth,meant that when fires did break out they could be brought back under control in a relatively short time with the assistance of aerial water bombers and ground crews.
    Some balance needs to be restored to your argument because while you raise this extremely important issue of land management (and let’s call it the single most important part or bush fire hazard reduction) you attack the aviation asserts which are having such a positive impact on the control of bush fires. Your assessment of the use of the DC-10 is for the large part correct, it is limited by suitable airfields however you chose not to mention the one such tanker operating in Australia is in the South East were there are a number of suitable airstrips. So while it may not be suited to West Australia it is suited to were it is currently being deployed.
    In your article and the CIRSO report the focus was on the dropping of water directly onto a fire while I’m sure you know all to well this is not the normal, they drop a mix of retardant ( the bright red sticky stuff) into the path of the fire not directly on to it. And if 30000 litres of water crashing out of the sky in 8 seconds breaks a few branches off trees or smashes a car windscreen so what.
    The 737 and C-130 tankers currently deployed ware excellent aircraft for the job and are far more cost effective than you choose to make out. The aircraft being deployed in Australia are all second hand modified for purpose that had reached the end of there commercial life. With very low hull costs the cost is in development, modifications.
    Your argument about crews standing around for most of the time doing nothing, drive past your local fire station on any given day of the year and I’m near certain you will find a station of fireman standing around doing nothing. And for the record I’m not advocating shutting down fire station but I think you can see the point.
    So take a couple of steps back and accept that while the point you are making about land management is the long term key to reducing bush fires, they will always be part of the Australian landscape, it’s up the the aerial water bombers and the arms and legs on the ground to bring them back under control.
    As a side note couldn’t agree more on your reserved comment on Geoffrey “Biggles” Thomas.

  • January 3, 2020 at 11:10 am
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    Thank you for your contribution. As a Scout I learned the basics of small-scale fire management, but large-scale fires are beyond my experience.

    My understanding is that the majority of the firefighting resources are currently managed at a state level – and a national/federal contribution in the form of aerial support would be warmly welcomed in most cases. I 100% agree it can not and should not replace preventative and on-the-ground resources – but as an extra I imagine it could be quite useful?

    On a side note, You say, “especially the Greens, who see the water bomber as a substitute for fuel reduction burning, which they hate” but I have seen no evidence of this, either in their policy or their actions. At least here in Brisbane, the local member (the hold no office above city council in QLD) has explained that a holistic approach is completely necessary, and that fuel-reduction burns are a part of their core policies at a national level.

  • January 4, 2020 at 11:25 am
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    I thought I read in your great publication that not that many years ago fire chiefs in NSW were fighting to stop water bombers being introduced. Does anyone know if this is true

  • January 7, 2020 at 4:55 pm
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    What is the cost? who would like to place a value on human life? livestock? wild life?infrastructure? Are we to burdened with the square wheel? or do we move quickly forward to ensure that life in all its forms is treated as sacred. If surveillance of state forests is conducted via satellites and the very first sign of a wisp of smoke alerts an appropriate number of water bombers to suit the occasion. Scramble the water bombers and we should be able to prevent the horrors of what Australia and Australians have faced and are still facing at this very moment. The cost for squadrons of water bombers would be well spent if it prevented the fear the heartache the trauma that is being encountered by Australians today. How much pollution has entered the atmosphere over the past few months and continuing for the next few months and next summer and the summers to follow? This is not emotional because I forwarded a request quite some years ago to the Federal Government to seriously look into the use of squadrons of water bombers and only this year during the fires, some Fire Chiefs in Australia called for the Federal Government to look into using water bombers. A human in front of a wall of horrific flames (although very brave) with a hose is hardly suitable when one can hit the fire immediately and hit it hard. We don’t have to wait until the fire has such a hold that no one can reach the base of the fires.

  • January 10, 2020 at 8:35 am
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    Sorry but this is a garbage article. Aerial firefighting is no panacea. But then neither is hazard reduction burning in a world with ever more extreme weather that means hazard reduction windows are ever shorter.

    While I personally think VLATs represent poor value for money this has more to do with the initial response times (long as operate out of central airfields often huge distances from the fire) and cycle times (long as have to return to said distant field and ground fill).

    The CONCEPT of rapidly boxing in a remote fire in difficult terrain when small (using either direct or indirect attack) using aerial assets initially to give time for ground assets to arrive is absolutely proven. There have been countless studies done in the US of avoided loss and the evidence from jurisdictions that have put in place a fit for purpose fleet is indisputable (e.g. Minnesota using the Fireboss).

    A fit for purpose fleet of Fireboss aircraft on the East Coast (a bargain at just over US$3m a pop for a brand new aircraft) would be incredibly useful being able to dump an initial load of retardant (ground filled) and then move to direct attack from a nearby watercourse (e.g. as seen in Moruya just recently) with Blazetamer 380 from its mixing tanks as an additive.

    At 300L an hour of fuel for potentially up to 50k L per hour of suppressant delivered this represents pretty good value for money, especially in areas of difficult terrain.

    Couple this with some specially built heavy lift helicopters (best value for money) for areas too far from large water sources (e.g. Kmax – new built = US$7m or refurbished Chinooks) and you have a highly capable force that can:
    1) Rapidly suppress remote fires BEFORE they can become mega fires;
    2) Be on standby during hazard reduction burns in case they threaten to get out of control;
    3) Reduce the intensity of well established firefronts and provide asset protection for remote properties (plenty of houses saved by a retardant or suppressant drop alone);
    4) Help douse difficult to reach hotspots during containment operations.

    Aerial waterbombing is expensive no doubt. Certain aircraft type though provide far more bang for buck than others (e.g. Kmax burns 310L an hour for a 3000L load vs. Bell 212 which burns 360L/hr despite only carrying 1300L. But the catastrophic damage bill from our current fires shows the cost of being inadequately resourced is FAR greater.

    Additionally I’d note that the REAL cost of ground based forces is only seen as cheap because the volunteers aren’t paid! Calculate the cost of a pumping truck at the opportunity cost of those volunteers and suddenly it doesn’t look cheap either!

  • January 11, 2020 at 5:12 pm
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    Would a mixture of mud and water (slurry) be more effective dropped from a water bomber to contain or even snuff out the fire, do the job, because of the density of the mixture.

  • January 18, 2020 at 3:31 pm
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    $50 billion for submarines
    $35 billion for the jet fighters
    $100 billion plus damage for the 19/20 fires.
    I am sure we have reasons to spend the billions to fund many hazard reducing fire fighting air forces and ground forces

  • January 20, 2020 at 12:56 pm
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    Re OC’s comments. Numerous studies have been conducted in Australia on the suitability of LATs and VLATS, too. All concluded they have very marginal utility in Australia and were not value for money.
    In practical terms, the safety requirement of withdrawing all other resources while the big birds do their thing delays effective firefighting operations. Long term retardant fails in Australian forests becasue the fire spots over or burns over – I have spent many a day on remote fires in the ‘red’ trying to make it work. Similarly, numerous attempts have been made to box smaller fires this season – each characterised by failure. Waste of time and money in remote areas but they may have utility as a replacement for asset protection zones along the back fences of suburbs.
    Medium and short term retardants without immediate follow-up action by ground resources also fail.
    In the forests, we need to become far better at closely integrating (in time and space) aerial and ground resources.
    Immediate Initial attack by ground crews and helos is a much better solution for remote fires.

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