Fire Boss aircraft lands at Tamworth base to fight fires in region

HELP FROM ABOVE: Pilot Craig Patton with the multi-function Fire Boss aircraft based in Tamworth yesterday to provide a rapid response to bushfires. Photo: Geoff O’Neill 261115GOC02

HELP FROM ABOVE: Pilot Craig Patton with the multi-function Fire Boss aircraft based in Tamworth yesterday to provide a rapid response to bushfires. Photo: Geoff O’Neill 261115GOC02

ON A day when devastating and deadly fires took lives elsewhere, the north welcomed new firefighting help from the sky, as a rapid-response resource ahead of what experts warn will be a long, hot summer.

There were severe fire danger warnings for much of the north, and the day brought three blazes: in the Pilliga, at Nowendoc and near Yarrowyck. 

The fire danger came as gusty and blustery conditions brought wind speeds of up to 70km around Tamworth and Gunnedah, while Narrabri recorded a blast of wind early in the morning that reached 83km/h.

It was a day when the mercury brought some of the hottest temperatures of the year to many centres, including Tamworth.

The top temperature officially reported across the region was at Moree, where it topped 42 degrees. 

It was a hot day in Tamworth, made worse by the sapping winds, but yesterday also saw a welcome blow-in in the shape of the specialist aerial Fire Boss.

Tamworth region Rural Fire Service Inspector Steve Prior said the Fire Boss, one of only two such aircraft in the country, flew in from Grafton yesterday morning with pilot Craig Patton, who hails from Quirindi, at the controls.

It is not yet known how long the aircraft will be based in Tamworth.

“It really depends on what happens,” Inspector Prior said.

“He will be here as long as we need him, not just in Tamworth, but anywhere in the North West as a rapid response.

“From here, the Fire Boss can quite readily shift to Narrabri or Moree because there are quite dry fuels out there in places.

“Tamworth is the staging area for the aircraft, so that he’s not too far away from anywhere.”

The Fire Boss is one of only two such aircraft in the country that have floats, meaning they can skim across dams – including Keepit, Chaffey, Split Rock or Glenbawn – and reload with water without having to go to an airport to reload.

This saves precious time in fighting, and working to control, fires.

“It’s a multi-functional aircraft, which has proven to be beneficial in areas with static bodies of water,” Inspector Prior said.

“It’s really improved the turnaround times since we’ve had that option.”

The aircraft can carry between 2700 and 3000 litres of water or fire retardant and can have foam injected into the water if necessary.

If an emergency fire situation develops in the region, Thor, a C130 Hercules, is also on standby. It is based in Richmond, but can reach anywhere in NSW within about an hour. 

“It comes fully loaded and goes directly to the fire, where it unloads and then, if it was in this area, it would reload in Tamworth,” Inspector Prior said.

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