A Royal Australian Navy MRH-90 helicopter from 808 Squadron at HMAS Albatross spent the first day of catastrophic fire conditions on search and rescue missions to support firefighting efforts around Kempsey on the Mid North Coast.
The helicopter kept ahead of the fire front to ensure property owners were well prepared and equipped for the approaching firestorm.
Flying low over properties in the direct path of the fire, the aircrew made hand signals to property owners and were prepared to evacuate any who did not give the 'thumbs up'.
Lieutenant Commander Michael Cairncross piloted one of the first missions, making several landings for the specialist firefighter on board to engage with community members.
"The MRH-90 has the capability to quickly move more people and equipment than fire-fighting helicopters can," LCDR Cairncross said.
I have never witnessed the intensity of a firestorm engulfing an entire mountain in less than five minutes.RAN pilot Lieutenant Commander Michael Cairncross
"I have never witnessed the intensity of a firestorm engulfing an entire mountain in less than five minutes.
"It was an extremely dynamic environment to fly in and challenging for the entire crew.
Jeff Hodder, is one of only 30 specialist NSW RFS Aviation Rescue Crewman volunteer, and joined the MRH-90 crew for these first missions.
"I am a volunteer with the Cowan Brigade, on the fringe of Sydney just south of the Hawkesbury River," Mr Hodder said.
"I had been out fighting fires on the ground on Friday night and Saturday morning around Taree before my first ever flight in a navy helicopter."
Both men agreed that proving the interoperability between the RAN and RFS under such extreme conditions had been a great learning experience.
Defence is continuing with work to ensure arrangements are in place to allow call out of Reservists to support significant national emergencies if required to supplement ADF regular personnel.