EXPANDED firefighting capacity on the ground and in the air will help combat what is expected to be a difficult fire season for the Wimmera.
The Wimmera will be home to an upgraded waterbombing helicopter for the duration of the 2018-19 fire danger season.
It is part of a $29.9 million state government investment to the state’s 49-strong fleet, which includes upgrades to existing aircraft models, expanded waterbombing ability and increased water capacity compared to previous years.
Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp said the upgrades would help combat high intensity fires.
“The state aircraft fleet for 2018-19 will see two upgraded aircraft, which means they have a larger capacity to hold water or retardant,” he said.
“One of those will be based in the Wimmera to support firefighting operations in western Victoria, and the other will be based in Ballarat. The upgraded helicopter to be based in the Wimmera area this year will be specifically engaged as a waterbombing aircraft.
“Previously this was primarily used as air-supervision aircraft and had limited waterbombing capability.”
He said the Grampians region was also supported by aircraft in the south west region, along with state-based aircraft.
“Aviation staff are meeting to discuss the start dates of aircraft across the state which will be determined according to risk,” he said.
“The location of the Wimmera aircraft and its capacity will be finalised shortly.”
Forest Fire Management Victoria Wimmera District manager Glenn Rudolph said firefighting aircrafts were crucial to combat fires in the region.
“Start dates (for the season) are still yet to be determined locally and we are making the final arrangements,” he said.
“Traditionally, we have the light helicopter here, along with a program to insert trained firefighters to monitor the Grampians area.
“We are putting on more field crews this year because of the expected intensity of the season. Normally we have 43, but we will have 48 this year.
“There will be returning firefighters here to support the early season, as well as more crews in the drier parts of the state such as the Mallee.”
Country Fire Authority District 17 operations manager Craig Brittain said he expected the Wimmera’s fire danger season to start either late October or early November, compared to last year’s start date of November 20.
A night fire suppression helicopter will also return to Ballarat this summer with a larger capacity to fight fires.
The aircraft will be doubled in size – from 1500L capacity to almost 4000L.