The Queensland Fire and Emergency Services’ (QFES) Large Air Tanker (LAT) has returned to Bundaberg, with the addition of a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter to support local bushfire response capabilities.
The fleet has been enhanced in anticipation of increased fire activity this season following three years of wet conditions.
Statewide, QFES’ aerial firefighting fleet has been boosted with an additional three aircraft, including an intelligence gathering aircraft and two fixed-wing water bombing aircraft, and an increased water bombing capacity of about 8,000 litres.
The UH-60 Black Hawk will also form part of the state’s aerial fleet for the first time since the 2019 season, with the faster machine bringing increased endurance and an ability to carry up to 4,000 litres.
Aircraft base operations have also been improved, with the Retardant and Suppressant Computerised Aircraft Loading (RASCAL) system now being used, increasing safety and accuracy when loading retardant.
QFES Commissioner Greg Leach said the combination of drying fuels, forecast below average rainfall and above average temperatures has increased the fire risk across Queensland this season.
“Under these conditions a heavy initial attack, which our aircraft play a key role in, is our best chance of bringing fires under control quickly,” he said.
“The diversity of the fleet ensures we have a range of aircraft to meet different needs, from water bombing through to aerial surveillance and mapping.
“Already this season we’ve seen multiple fast-moving grassfires in the southern half of the state, with aircraft providing support to ground crews by dropping more than 1.5 million litres of suppressant in the last two months.
“QFES is well-equipped to deal with bushfires and our highly skilled and well-trained firefighters are ready to respond, but bushfire preparation is a community effort and now is the time to ensure you are prepared.”
Queensland Minister for Police and Corrective Services and Minister for Fire and Emergency Services Mark Ryan said the increased capacity was a significant boost for Queensland aerial firefighting operations.
“Queenslanders are no stranger to the dangers of bushfires and with hot, dry conditions expected to return this season, it’s important to ensure our firefighters have all the tools they need to keep communities safe,” he said.
“With hardworking crews on the ground and the largest number of consistently contracted aircraft the state has ever had; communities can be assured we are ready for the increased fire activity expected.”
Member for Bundaberg Tom Smith MP said the Bundaberg community was excited the LAT was back for another fire season.
“Strategically located in Bundaberg, the Large Air Tanker is an important asset that assists our brave firefighters on the frontline as they protect our regional communities in the face of dangers associated with fire,” he said.
“It’s exciting for the community to host the Black Hawk as the aircraft joins the ranks of the Queensland Fire and Emergency aerial fleet for the first time since 2019.”
QFES’ aerial fleet now comprises of 13 aircraft which are contracted for the fire season, with approximately 150 additional planes and helicopters available in a call-when-needed capacity.
Contracted aircraft are based in Bundaberg, Toowoomba and Toogoolawah but can be repositioned across the state to meet operational needs.