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Vols Linga longer at air base
Huntly Fire Brigade members celebrated the green (Department of Environment and Primary Industries) and the gold (CFA) alongside Parks Victoria and pilots at Linga air base on Australia Day.
Huntly was deployed with their tanker – one of the few in District 2 with a B class foam capacity – to the Mallee DEPI firebombing headquarters and given three main tasks. Member Alan Roberts lists them as, “one, asset protection for the air base if fire should come out of the bush; two, response in the very unlikely event of an aircraft emergency; three, to assist with any other activities at the air base including dust mitigation.
“We stayed at the base all day for a week. We weren’t loading or mixing the retardant – that was mostly done by Parks Victoria with back up from DEPI. They were doing 20 or 30 loads on those really hot days and they were just absolutely shattered and filthy.
“Each of the air tractor 802s carry about three tonne although that might be reduced slightly on a hot day. You watch them with a load in their belly and sometimes they really don’t like taking off.”
In fact Alan has a DEPI background managing agricultural chemicals so he wasn’t in unfamiliar territory but it was still very different to his earlier strike team deployment to the Lake Albacutya fire.
“Another important job on the base was pressure washing the air tractors,” he continues. “Solidified retardant would build up on the rear of them which caked on in big chunks. My guess is that the pilots could feel when there was too much build up and that’s where we came in.
“There were four helicopters based there including a Bell Long Ranger, a Squirrel and the Westpac rescue chopper which is usually at Moorabbin. There were also three or four air observer high wing Cessnas there at different times.
“It was busy and different. We stayed in Ouyen and DEPI arranged the food, accommodation and transport to and from the base. They were really good hosts and I think they were very pleased to have us there.
“It was a really good tour of duty – a real team effort. We saw how slick and professional the whole operation was. The pilots were excellent. One of them was from the US but has recently been working in Mongolia which was interesting."
In two weeks responding to the Mallee fires, the air tractors flew 600 loads of retardant made of a phosphate salt that coats the bark, leaves, twigs to inhibit burning. It's coloured orange so the pilots can see where it's been dropped with the colour degrading in sunlight after two weeks.
Alan was deployed with fellow Huntly members Trevor Strauch and Eamon Jackson.
NOTE: One image in the photo gallery shows the exhausted Parks Victoria workers resting in the shade