As a result of recent accidents involving aircraft working on wildfires, authorities in Australia are developing standardized procedures across the country in order to reduce the chances of additional mid-air collisions and other accidents involving firefighting aircraft.
Australia’s fire authorities are reviewing a draft firefighting operations manual designed to standardise aerial firefighting procedures across the country.
The development of the manual follows a firefighting review conducted in 2009 by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority after a number of accidents involving firefighting aircraft in the 2009 fire season.
The issue of a lack of standardised procedures was highlighted in the investigation by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau of a midair collision between a Eurocopter AS350B and a Eurocopter/Kawasaki BK117 performing aerial firebombing operations 20km (11nm) south-east of Orange aerodrome, New South Wales in December 2009.
The final report into the accident was released in late November. During one of the water drop sequences, while in the vicinity of the drop point, the BK117’s main rotor blade tip contacted the trailing edge of the AS350B’s vertical fin above the tail rotor arc, resulting in slight damage to the latter.
Although there were no injuries, “the outcome could have been more serious”, the ATSB points out. One of the accidents involving firefighting aircraft in New South Wales during the 2009 fire season resulted in the loss of a life.
In its investigation of the BK117 and AS350B collision, the ATSB found that there were no published procedures for pilots to follow to ensure separation from other aircraft when there was no air attack supervisor present.
Rather, the system relied on the airmanship and experience of pilots to mutually arrange separation. The ATSB determined that neither pilot in that incident was aware of the position of the other helicopter as they approached the drop point.
The Royal Commission has released their final report on the bush fires of February, 2009 that left 173 dead in Australia. Interestingly, the Commission recommends keeping the “stay and defend or leave early” policy after augmenting and improving it in a number of areas. The report consists of five volumes and thousands of pages. HERE is a link to the report, and below is an excerpt about it from the Telegraph:
The report into the worst bush fire in Australian history, which killed 173 people, described the authorites’ response as “inadequate”.
The detailed document recommended building bush fire refuges and shelters in vulnerable areas, buying land back from home owners who are living in the most at risk parts of the countryside, and implementing a new emergency evacuation strategy.
It also recommended appointing a new independent fire commissioner to oversee the state’s firefighting operations after leadership during the deadly blazes was found to be lacking.
However, the commission, which was set up by the federal Australian government to investigate the causes and responses to the bush fires, recommended that the controversial “stay and defend or leave early policy” – which has been blamed for putting scores of people in the path of the catastrophic blazes – be thoroughly overhauled but not abandoned.
A total of 173 people died when the worst bush fires in Australian history engulfed rural towns and communities in the southern state of Victoria on Feb 7 2009. Temperatures soared to 118F and strong winds fanned the flames.
Of those who died on Black Saturday, 113 were found in or near houses that were burned to the ground by towering flames that outran fire engines and swept across 1.1 million acres of countryside in a matter of hours.
The commission, which has spent 17 months hearing evidence from more than 400 witnesses, found that the policy, which encourages home owners to decide when and if to leave their properties, was “sound” but needed to be revised.
“Leaving early is still the safest option. Staying to defend a well-prepared defendable home is also a sound choice in less severe fires but there needs to be greater emphasis on important qualifications,” the report said.
The report stated that the power of the infernos generated on Black Saturday exposed weaknesses in the “stay or go” policy.
The policy was too “simplistic” and “realistic advice is unavoidably more complex”, it said.
“As a consequence, although the Commission suggests retaining the effective elements of the existing policy it also recommends augmenting and improving the policy in a number of areas.”
The policy that people in well-prepared homes can save their property and their lives in the face of a raging bushfire is a myth and should be abandoned, the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission has heard.
The stay or go policy failed the community on Black Saturday because many people who prepared to stay and defend their homes were killed, lawyers assisting the commission said.
But the state government’s solicitor argued it was still safer for people to shelter in houses during a bushfire than be caught in the open when trying to flee at the last minute.
The commission has been told that 113 of 173 people killed in the February 7, 2009 bushfires died sheltering in homes.
Senior Counsel assisting the commission, Jack Rush, QC, said the government’s policy didn’t work because many people don’t make preparations to stay and defend, and fewer left early.
He said the assertion in the stay or go policy that “people protect houses, houses protect people” was a myth and the policy should be abandoned.
“We call for a replacement of the policy with a new policy based around evacuation as the primary protective action for a community that is threatened by fire.
“If evacuation is not possible, shelter options should be available to all communities that are threatened by fire.”
The Victorian government in Australia has introduced new interim regulations for bunkers in which residents can take refuge when threatened by a bushfire. In order to install a fire bunker, a building permit must be obtained and the bunker must comply with performance requirements such as accessing and exiting the shelter, as well as utilities and the air supply. Residents need to purchase a bushfire bunker or shelter which is accredited, or satisfy a building surveyor that it meets the requirements contained in the regulations.
Under the new interim regulations, the first fire bunker has been accredited by the Victorian government. It is built by the Melbourne-based company Wildfire Safety Bunkers and is designed to be installed underground to shelter up to six people. The company emphasizes that the bunker should be used as a “last resort” and evacuation should be considered first.
The company’s web site has an excellent time-lapse animation showing the installation of the bunker. It is on their home page–click the arrow to begin the animation.
The interim regulations will be in effect until proposed new national regulations are approved later in the year.
Research scientist Lachlan McCaw led a team that studied the effects that previous planned or unplanned fires had on the spread of the disastrous Black Saturday fires a year ago in Australia. Unsurprisingly, he concluded that the intensity was reduced and the areas provided anchor points for firefighters, but larger prescribed fires were more effective than small ones.
DUH. To many of us this is intuitive, but documenting this data can help to rebut the uninformed rants of those in Australia that are opposed to prescribed fires.
Dr McCaw said that across the areas burned on Black Saturday, there was no evidence that small-area fuel reduction had curbed the fires, but strong evidence of an impact where planned or unplanned burns had occurred within four years and over broad areas of more than 600ha.
Where the Kilmore fire, burning with great intensity about 3pm on Black Saturday, met a relatively small area of four-year-old growth, it was quickly outflanked.
About 6.30pm, when the fire met a 1600ha area burnt by wildfire in January 2006, it burned with low intensity.
Dr McCaw said the severity of the Beechworth fire on Black Saturday was reduced by burns that had been conducted one year, two years and four years previously, that had also provided “anchor points” for fire fighting.
Asked about the effectiveness of small “mosaic” burns that left areas of unburnt vegetation for biodiversity conservation, Dr McCaw said if the primary objective of planned burning was community protection, “you would have to be pursuing fairly high levels of fuel reduction”.