Flying firies saved the day

Written By miftah nugraha on Sabtu, 23 Februari 2013 | 19.55

Flying firefighters saved many Tasmanian communities during recent outbreaks across the state.

HELICOPTERS may have saved the day at Molesworth, Franklin and Gretna but the international pilots who man the aircraft say it's all in a day's work.

"Without the aerial support we've had, the Molesworth fire had the potential to be far worse than it was. It could've reached Hobart, and homes would have been lost," Tasmania Fire Service air attack supervisor Bill St Leger said.

"This has been our busiest summer by far. We've contracted aircraft for nearly 10 years and this is definitely the most demanding year we've had."

New Zealand pilots Piers Harvey and "Kiwi Dave" Latham have been flying the workhorses of the sky, two Bell 214 aircraft specially flown in to Tasmania armed with 3000-litre capacity water tanks to fight the potentially deadly fires at Molesworth and Dunalley.

The machines, which boast more horsepower than a locomotive engine, burn through a whopping 12,000 litres of fuel a day.

These pilots saved countless homes and farms at Molesworth and Gretna and Mr Latham personally saved scores of sheep "no New Zealand jokes please" trapped by a wall of flames bearing down on them at Gretna on Monday.

"We managed to save the sheep in the stockyard and the house, but some sheep got trapped up on the hill when the fire came thorough so I went and put some water on them," Mr Harvey said.

"The fire was burning across so fast we were going from one house to the next.

"You never feel like you've got enough time, as much of a chance as you'd like. When it's lingering you get plenty of time, but when it's mid-action you barely get enough time to put some water there and then move on."

Canadian pilot Craig Pedersen and engineer Chris Benoit flew in from North America to assemble, maintain and man a Bell 212 contracted by the Federal Government to the TFS.

Mr Pedersen's helicopter was the first response aircraft at Molesworth and Franklin.

At the peak of the fires the TFS was utilising close to a dozen helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft.

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