Two firefighting aircraft due to aid in Victoria’s bushfire efforts this season are yet to be delivered months into the bushfire season, and despite raging fires on the Victoria-South Australia border.
The news comes after the Victorian government announced in November that it would expand its aerial firefighting fleet to include four new aircraft, including a Boeing CH-47 Chinook, an Erickson Air Crane, a Q400 Large Air Tanker and a Super Puma.
However, according to a report in the Herald Sun, neither the Chinook nor the Air Crane have touched down in the state to date.
The absence of the two water bombers was largely felt this week as emergency services attempted to extinguish an extensive blaze at the South Australia-Victoria border that ultimately destroyed 7000 hectares – the biggest fire seen so far in this year’s bushfire season.
Firefighting efforts were instead supported by two large air tankers, four single engine air tankers, three firebombing helicopters and ground crews.
Locals told the newspaper the aircraft that are ready to take part in aerial firefighting efforts are often parked at Essendon or Moorabbin airports by this point in the season.
Despite the concerns, the Victoria emergency management department has said that both the Chinook and the Air Crane will be available and online for the state’s “highest risk” period – largely considered to be in the late summer and early autumn months.
“Victorians are well protected this season with firefighting aircraft and thousands of firefighters ready to respond to emergencies across the state,” said an Emergency Management Victoria (EMV) spokeswoman.
“The safety of the Victorian community and our emergency management personnel is our priority and will not be compromised under any circumstances.”
In November, EMV announced that 50 aircraft in total will be placed across the state to support firefighting efforts in 2021-22.
The fleet includes a mix of firebombing aircraft, air supervision and airborne information-gathering aircraft, the department stated.
EMV also praised the new CH47 Chinook as the “highest capacity helicopter” in the fleet.
“Able to operate during the hottest part of the day and into the night, it will support the work of the Night Fire Aviation Program,” it said.
Emergency management commissioner Andrew Crisp said at the time that this year’s fleet will be more agile and responsive than ever.
“Our 50 aircraft will be strategically placed across the state according to risk and we can move aircraft quickly to respond to fires anywhere in the state.”
“I’m confident that this aerial firefighting fleet will complement the great work that our firefighters do to keep our community safe.”