20 March 2020

Canberra farewells air tanker after devastating bushfire season

| Dominic Giannini
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DC-10 Air Tanker, Orroral Valley fire, fire retardant drop

The DC-10 Air Tanker 912 conducts a fire retardant drop immediately behind the village of Tharwa on the evening of 1 February. Photo: ACT Emergency Services Agency.

After a summer of smoke and fire, a very thankful Canberra has farewelled the American very large air tanker (VLAT) that flew 29 missions during this bushfire season, dropping more than one million litres of retardant on fires across the ACT and NSW.

When Namadgi was ablaze and the Orroral Valley fire threatened Canberra’s urban interface, the VLAT and its crew worked tirelessly alongside the ACT Emergency Services Agency (ESA) for 40 days of continuous firefighting to help contain, and eventually extinguish, the threat.

ESA Commissioner Georgeina Whelan said the VLAT played an integral role in keeping the community safe.

DC-10 Air Tanker, Orroral Valley fire, Canberra Airport

DC-10 Large Aerial Tanker 912 taxis towards an Army Reserve infantryman at Canberra Airport. Photo: ACT Emergency Services Agency.

“When the VLAT was flying and dropping retardant in South Canberra, ESA received lots of comments and praise from the community that they felt safer knowing such a powerful asset was available to protect them,” she said.

“Strategic retardant drops were completed during the Orroral Valley Fire which slowed down fires burning close to Tharwa, and Mount Tennant near Gordon.”

Tharwa was threatened directly by the fire, including being hit by an ember attack, with the front coming just mere kilometres from the small southern ACT community.

The aircraft – which can hold up to 35,000 litres of water or retardant – was used to strengthen containment lines around the village.

Its entire load can be dropped in four to eight seconds and cover an area about 1 km long and 30-metres wide.

The VLAT was contracted in coordination with the National Aerial Firefighting Centre for 50 days, with the DC-10 Tanker previously being commissioned to help fight bushfires in the US, Canada and Chile before arriving in Australia on 23 January.

The ACT 2019-20 bushfire season will conclude on 31 March 2020.

A fond farewell

A fond farewell from Canberra airport. Photo: Canberra Airport via Facebook.

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