Army helicopter believed to have caused Orroral Valley fire

Dominic Giannini 28 January 2020 50
MHR-90 Taipan helicopter

MHR-90 Taipan helicopter. Photo: Defence.

An Australian Army helicopter on reconnaissance operations is likely to be responsible for starting the out of control Orroral Valley bushfire in the Namadgi National Park.

The MRH-90 Taipan helicopter was clearing landing zones that would be used to drop in strike teams in case of a fire. But when the aircraft landed at around 1 pm yesterday (Monday, 27 January), it’s believed the landing light created enough heat to set the grass on fire.

There were six people on board at the time of the incident, and all of them escaped uninjured after the fire began to spread quickly, Chief of Joint Operations, Lieutenant General Greg Bilton said at an ESA press conference this evening.

“We had been placing people over the last four or five days into the Namadgi forest to clear landing zones to enable emergency services to place strike teams into that area to deal with fires,” he said.

“The fire was initiated and grew rapidly. The aircraft sustained some damage on the ground, and then was able to recover back to Fairbairn.

“We are undertaking an investigation to determine the exact causes, but at this stage, we feel that the heat source from the light is the most likely cause.”

The lights are used as a safety precaution when the helicopter is flying in difficult circumstances, such as a very smoky environment. The Taipain is classified as a utility helicopter and can carry up to 12 people.

Lieutenant General Bilton says that the helicopter will continue to assist the ESA, but procedures have been changed to ensure this does not happen again.

“We will change our standard operating procedures not to utilise those lights, we acknowledge the safety aspect but it is important that we are able to continue operations in support of the emergency services,” he said.

“Since that time we have continued to use helicopters to provide fire spotting and fire mapping.”

Georgeina Whelan

ESA Commissioner Georgeina Whelan addressing the media ahead of Lieutenant General Bilton (right). Photo: Dominic Giannini.

The Australian Defence Force will continue to provide support to the ACT to help manage and contain this bushfire, Minister for Emergency Services Mick Gentleman said.

“Whilst the appliance was on the ground, this is the first time a fire has been caused by a helicopter landing light and Defence has taken action immediately to reduce the likelihood of this event reoccurring,” Minister Gentleman said.

“This includes not using certain aircraft during extreme weather conditions.

“We have had Defence at ESA since the State of Alert was declared early in January.

“Defence is continuing to work closing with the ESA to provide assets and personnel to help contain this bushfire.”

The ADF has been tasked to help construct containment lines, and have provided staff to assist in air-based operations, engineering support, evacuation support, logistic planning and air intelligence and surveillance, ESA Commissioner Georgeina Whelan said.

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50 Responses to Army helicopter believed to have caused Orroral Valley fire
Bill Read Bill Read 8:02 am 02 Feb 20

Army helicopters cannot be used in the bush...

Capital Retro Capital Retro 5:11 pm 29 Jan 20

Climate change dodged a bullet there.

Andrew Dudley Andrew Dudley 11:11 am 29 Jan 20

Sounds like it was going to catch on fire regardless.

    Jackie Fuller Jackie Fuller 1:22 pm 29 Jan 20

    Andrew Dudley how do you figure that out 🤦‍♂️

Simone Kuhlmann-Te Are Simone Kuhlmann-Te Are 6:01 am 29 Jan 20

Shiloh Vincent it was freaking helicopter lights!

Bill Gemmell Bill Gemmell 1:52 am 29 Jan 20

Shows how flammable everything is at present. These guys were trying to do the right thing and shouldn't wear any blame.

    Lisa Jones Lisa Jones 5:44 am 29 Jan 20

    Bill Gemmell unfortunately, if houses or lives are lost, I think the tides will turn and they will wear the blame alright. People may be forgiving now, but won’t be if lives are lost or their homes go up in flames.

Kristy Hancock Kristy Hancock 11:59 pm 28 Jan 20

That's some irony for you, it's an unforeseen unfortunate accident which I don't think can be held against them

Ali Bear Ali Bear 11:21 pm 28 Jan 20

If only they had landed a smidgin further down the valley, on the large concrete pads left from the Orroral Valley space tracking station...

Rastislav Zrelak Rastislav Zrelak 10:50 pm 28 Jan 20

Fire banned everywhere, why they can't use different set of lights

Oliver Phua Oliver Phua 9:22 pm 28 Jan 20

Ethan Strunks it's the government 😲😂

Felicity Thom Felicity Thom 9:14 pm 28 Jan 20

Yeah cool people all want the military in until something happens that could have happened to anyone with this weather and everyone loses their minds. You want their help or not, can't have your cake and eat it too.

Gerda Lawrence Gerda Lawrence 9:10 pm 28 Jan 20

If it was that dry there is no way the stop it from catching fire. Please stop pointing fingers and be thankful that even though they may have caused it (which was inevitable) but they are also there to help

    Gerda Lawrence Gerda Lawrence 9:44 pm 28 Jan 20

    Rachel Sutton thank you. I am tired of the finger pointing and insults that people are throwing about. This is an awful situation and we should help each other

    Jeff Favaloro Jeff Favaloro 9:09 pm 29 Jan 20

    Gerda Lawrence ? That doesn’t really make sense - even the army has now changed this protocol for daytime Landing lights so even they see saying it was preventable

Tracy Chalk Tracy Chalk 8:57 pm 28 Jan 20

Terribly terribly sad

Stuart Clark Stuart Clark 8:43 pm 28 Jan 20

Bruce Graham Clark what type of landing lights do your rotary assets use. LED? Can LEDs generate such heat?

    Stuart Clark Stuart Clark 8:57 pm 28 Jan 20

    Alan Brown can you explain the difference please.

    Lyle Williams Lyle Williams 11:43 pm 29 Jan 20

    Stuart Clark An issue for LED lights in reflectors is if you turn them towards the sun, they die like ants under a magnifying glass. Not a problem for household installations, but pretty impractical for an aircraft.

    The entertainment industry also has this problem for moving-head LED beam lights at outdoor concerts. Turn them towards the sun accidentally and they are dead.

    Stuart Clark Stuart Clark 11:44 pm 29 Jan 20

    Lyle Williams thanks

Tanbir Paulie Tanbir Paulie 8:42 pm 28 Jan 20

Last thing needed😢

Cheryl Rule Cheryl Rule 8:41 pm 28 Jan 20

That’s not good must feel terrible

    Gabriella Tagliapietra Gabriella Tagliapietra 7:16 am 29 Jan 20

    I bet they feel absolutely terrible Cheryl... it’s very unfortunate when they’re here trying to help.

Krystaal Hinds Krystaal Hinds 8:40 pm 28 Jan 20

Eugan Berekoven that answers your question

Iaian Ross Iaian Ross 8:31 pm 28 Jan 20

Just tragic if true. 😰

David Terry David Terry 8:29 pm 28 Jan 20

Nath Coxy better let them know to change them to leds, they don’t heat up as much!🤫

Stuart Clark Stuart Clark 8:15 pm 28 Jan 20

In heli borne operations like these many things happen that cannot reasonably be foreseen. Credit to the ADF for acknowledging it, taking it on the chin and adjusting to prevent it from happening again. That’s what good operators do.

    Adrian Fitzgerald Adrian Fitzgerald 8:34 pm 28 Jan 20

    Stuart Clark are these landing lights not now LED? If so how’d they generate that much heat to start a grass fire. Asking as in a previous life I worked in emergency lighting and now work as a HSEQ Advisor.

    Stuart Clark Stuart Clark 8:39 pm 28 Jan 20

    Adrian Fitzgerald I am not sure as I no longer work in this environment. I would be surprised if they were not LED but I understand from a previous post even if they’re LED they could still generate significant heat.

    Daniel Bryan Daniel Bryan 9:49 pm 28 Jan 20

    Stuart - at that wattage, there wouldn't be much out there that wouldn't generate heat.

    Stuart Clark Stuart Clark 9:49 pm 28 Jan 20

    Daniel Bryan Thanks

Dragan Gluhović Dragan Gluhović 8:09 pm 28 Jan 20

Sometimes you have to burn whole National park just to implement new rules. Where was that thinking before it has happened🤨🤨🤔🤔

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