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Higher risk of forest fires as more plantations established; Queensland Govt urged to examine South African firefighting model

Posted by gmarkets on 25 September, 2007

Independent Queensland MLA Dolly Pratt described a comprehensive South African forest fire prevention system to the Queensland Legislative Assembly on 4 September 2007.

Aerial spotters and fire bombers: The operation was in an intensely reafforested plantation area at KwaZulu-Natal. Pratt visited the Sappi pine and eucalypt plantation at Shafton where Orsmond Aerial Spraying, which undertook the initial firefighting experiment 20 years ago, was based. This operation comprised an operations room and a number of spotters who flew Cessna 150s and six fire bombers who flew Ayers Thrush agricultural aircraft and one large helicopter. The operation had other units that were based in other areas as well. A number of plantation companies paid a fire watch network.

Monitoring and rapid reaction: The award-winning monitoring array consisted of 12 cameras that were located throughout the KwaZulu-Natal area which rotate 360 degrees every few minutes. If smoke was detected, an alert was signalled. With the fire danger status having already been calculated, the location and threat to property and the need for beaters or a greater force to combat the fire was also calculated. If aircraft were thought to be needed a spotter was sent out urgently. He or she reported back and if bombers were required a siren sounded. If conditions required a large firefighting helicopter, only then was it sent out.

Govt urged to prepare for greater probability of fires: “They nip the fires in the bud wherever possible,” said Pratt. “Letting fires burn out of control if they cannot be contained by ground forces and having to call in the massively expensive firefighting helicopters, such as we appear to do here in Australia, seems ludicrous when we have agricultural aircraft, as used effectively in South Africa, readily accessible and located within minutes of any possible fire in Queensland. I encourage the government to investigate the firefighting operation in South Africa and be ready for what can and will be potentially disastrous fires in Queensland as more and more forestry plantations are established,” Pratt said.

Reference: Dolly Pratt, member for Nanango, Legislative Assembly, Queensland, 4 September 2007.

Erisk Net, 22/9/2007

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