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HomeVolume 28Big water bombers still on the ground

Big water bombers still on the ground


Big water bombers still cannot be used in Alice Springs which is again surrounded by wildfires.

Two light aircraft each capable of carrying just 3000 litres of water are now in fire fighting use but according to Bushfires NT they can extinguish just “20 to 30 square metres” in one drop.

The fire front is estimated at 72,000 metres in the blaze north-east of the town. An exact figure of the fire front length is not available.

Preparations for the use of large fire bombers carrying 15,000 litres, including Boeing 737-300 aircraft, are locked in a Catch 22 situation: The NT is part of a national system for the use of such aircraft but “they are ineffective given the location,” says Tony Fuller, of Bushfires NT.

Why? “We don’t have the facilities.”

The Alice Springs airport certainly does its part, providing water in excess of 3960 litres per minute.

At this flow rate the 15,000 litre tanks of the large bombers would be full in around five minutes.

But without that equipment that the Government or Bushfires NT need to provide, the planes would need to be loaded interstate, the cost would be $200,000 per sortie and in any case the load, including a retardant, would “settle in flight” and become useless, according to Mr Fuller.

Of course, none of that would be the case if the large aircraft could be based and loaded here. Flight time to the fires would be a mere few minutes.

Four 22,000 litre water tanks have been installed at the airport to load the small aircraft but are apparently not suitable for the large bombers.

Mr Fuller says the small planes can also lay down a 500 metre “wet line” alongside fire breaks to reduce the risk from embers blown across.

He said yesterday the current fires are at “multiple locations”.

Related reading, including Mike Gillam’s essay on the fight against buffel.

West Macs fire mitigation critically inadequate: scientist (February 7, 2019)

West Macs blaze: questions and sorrow (February 11, 2019)

Bushfire fighting up in the air (February 19, 2019)

Fire threat: where are the big water bombers (September 20, 2019)

Increased fire preparedness: not the NT government (December 16, 2019)

Not ready for savage bushfire threat (March 1, 2023)

Top risk level blaze in farm area, fire fighting assets lacking (March 24, 2023)

Fire bombers, buffel and planned burning (August 15, 2023)

PHOTO AT TOP: Fires burning and burnt country north-east of Alice Springs which is in the bottom left of the image. The image was supplied by Dr Rohan Fisher, Charles Darwin University, North Australia Fire Information (NAFI).


  1. Why? “We don’t have the facilities.” Which reminds me:
    I’ll never forget an interview with Spike Milligan I saw on TV. In the interview, Spike told of his experiences in liberated France at the end of WWII.
    He’d been assigned as driver to a British officer and they found themselves at the advancing frontline. They came upon a squad of German soldiers with their hands up.
    “What do they want Milligan? I think they want to surrender Sir. Tell them we have no facilities.”
    So there was Spike waving them away saying “Shoo shoo!”


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