Helicopter crew on standby in Tamworth

A RAPID-response fire crew is on standby at Tamworth Airport for any bushfire emergencies the weekend’s heatwave might generate.

Temperatures are expected to rise above 40 degrees Celsius across the north and conditions are perfect for bushfires.

The state’s Rapid Aerial Response (RAR) team has been stationed in the city for the next two days in preparation for such events.

Made up of a crew of four Rural Fire Service (RFS) volunteer firefighters – two from Sydney and two from the Hunter Valley – a pilot and an operations commander, their efforts could make a difference in the initial stages of a serious blaze.

Their presence comes as fire permits were suspended across the state and the New England and North West was placed on high and very high fire danger ratings yesterday, which will continue today.

The team will be able to tackle fires in a 120km radius, within 30 minutes, before their RFS ground crew counterparts can reach them and take over.

Remote area firefighting and special operations acting manager Chris Ryder is overseeing this weekend’s RAR operation and says it’s the first time the team has really been deployed, after last year’s floods replaced bushfire dangers.

Mr Ryder said the district’s RFS would receive a call and work out whether it was appropriate for them to go.

On Thursday, the team had already responded to a fire started near Mt Kaputar, at Narrabri, from lightning strikes.

Their aircraft, a European-made Dauphine helicopter, is capable of winching the crew to the ground and supporting them from the air with a 1022-litre water bucket.

Mr Ryder said the team would continue to be stationed in areas with very high fire danger ratings during the next few months.

Reports have suggested this summer could be one of the worst bushfire seasons on record, with the last 12 months’ wet and humid conditions providing ample grass growth. 

RFS Tamworth zone superintendent Allyn Purkiss says crews were ready but the community could take precautions, too.

“I could imagine it being so hot that a lot of people will want to go camping, and I will remind them not to start camp fires,” Mr Purkiss said.

Following last week’s Echo Hills fire, which started from a fence welder’s sparks, Mr Purkiss also reminded people to hold off on any activities that carry fire starting dangers.

“We’re just sitting here nervously waiting,” he said.

n A special three-page news feature on how to prepare for the bushfire threat appears on pages 25-27.

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