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Squirrel to fight fires in Green Triangle

The Green Triangle Fire Alliance funded Firebird 326 with veteran pilot Peter Bonniface at the controls.

The Green Triangle’s timber plantation companies have invested in additional aerial firefighting capacity in the region to protect its plantation estate, natural environment and broader community this fire season. Source: Timberbiz

The helicopter, a B2 Squirrel, has been engaged by the Green Triangle Fire Alliance (GTFA), supporting more than 300 trained plantation industry fire fighters working on the ground across the Green Triangle this summer.

The helicopter has been contracted through the Victorian Government and forms part of the Victorian aerial fleet. The GTFA’s nine forest grower member companies are providing funding for it to be positioned at the Casterton airfield.

GTFA General Manager Anthony Walsh said the helicopter’s 1000 litre bucket could draw water from a variety of sources close to the fire line.

“This helicopter is highly complementary to the fixed wing fire bombers that operate in the region,” Mr Walsh said.

“While the fixed wing bombers carry a greater load, the advantage of a helicopter is that it can find water in close proximity to a fire which supports very short turnaround times.

“The helicopter has already been deployed twice, including providing valuable support at the recent Poolaijelo fire.

“Other aircraft may leave the region to attend fires elsewhere across the state, but this helicopter will remain at its Casterton base for the 14-week service period until the end of March 2022.”

Mr Walsh said that while operation of the helicopter was currently restricted to Victoria, discussions were continuing with the South Australian Country Fire Service (CFS) to enable operation in the Limestone Coast region.

“We are extremely grateful for the support from the Victorian Department of Environment Land Water and Planning (DELWP) and the Country Fire Authority (CFA) to establish the service,” he said.

“We remain hopeful that the same level of protection being offered to our Victorian based estate will soon extend to South Australia to enable operation across the entire Green Triangle plantation estate.”

The helicopter extends the industry’s extensive investment in fire suppression resources. The Green Triangle plantation industry collectively has 100 fire appliances with trained fire fighters on standby, ready to rapidly respond to fires throughout the fire season.

“This helicopter provides a further layer of support to our Forest Industry Brigades that work tirelessly over the summer months to not only defend our forest estate, but to protect our broader communities,” Mr Walsh said.