WITH much of the Deans Gap fire burning in remote and inaccessible areas, firefighters have needed to rely on accurate maps as they plot the fire’s behaviour, and plan ways to tackle it.
An RFS helicopter has been tasked with flying aerial observation, skimming over the outskirts of the blaze two or three times a day to ensure accurate data is available to personnel on the ground.
Pilot Joanna Murphy and observer Bernie O’Rourke are charged with gathering intelligence on the fire’s behaviour.
Ms Murphy conceded the missions could be “quite challenging, in terms of the smoke”.
While Ms Murphy flies the helicopter around the fire’s edge, Mr O’Rourke makes entries into a computer linked to the GPS system that marks whether there is an active fire front or inactive area, and whether there are any assets in the area.
“I’m also looking for things like big, dry trees that are burning in the middle and might be spreading embers to unburnt sections of bush,” he said.
“We also look at things like whether creek beds are wet or dry, the way fire is moving through valleys, and different wind conditions.”
A trained fire fighter, Mr O’Rourke said his expertise and understanding of fire behaviour was vital in reporting back information to help people on the ground plan activities for the coming day or even more.
Information mapped in the air is fed back to the ground through a Wi-Fi link to create maps that are relied on when deploying fire fighters to different areas.
With water-bombing aircraft being heavily used in the bid to douse the fire, and other aircraft being used to drop incendiaries to start back-burning, Mr O’Rourke said he also had to keep a watchful eye out for other aircraft.
“I’m the eyes and ears for the pilot,” he said.