By ERWIN CHLANDA
Damage to property is still being assessed after the “emergency” fire – the highest level – burning next to Rangeview Estate in Connellan this afternoon, raising serious questions about fire fighting capacity in the town.
The blaze started at around 1.30pm east of the Schaber Road area on the rural south-eastern edge of the municipality, in buffel choked land (photo, taken last August) on the western banks of the Todd.
Massive black smoke billowed from several fires and, from time to time, explosions, presumably from gas bottles, could be heard.
Residents in the vicinity were urged to evacuate with the eastern side of Schaber Road especially affected, according to an NTPFES spokesman.
Despite the region’s exposure to fires there are no water bombers here, an issue that was raised four years ago when a blaze raged through much of the West MacDonnell national park for 17 days, destroying vegetation over half of the area.
An estimated 20% (according to the ABC) of the same park has burned in a fire starting one week ago. The News yesterday requested further details from the government but they were not available.
Today’s fire was one minute’s flying time from the airport which is equipped with water supply that has a flow rate 3960 litres per minute. At this flow rate the 15,000 litre tanks of the large planes would be full in around five minutes.
But none of these planes are available here. When we asked earlier this month if water bombers would be on stand-by in the local fire season, a spokesman for the Department of Environment, Parks and Water Security said: “There are no contracted fixed wing water bombers in Central Australia and Bushfires has no plans to have large air tankers on standby when the fire season starts due to logistical and environmental considerations.”
A chopper similar to the ones seen in fire fighting reports was circling today’s fires for hours, for observation and not to deliver a single drop of water despite being capable of having a large water bladder suspended from it for fire fighting.
Batchelor had three fire fighting aircraft, when we checked in 2019.
PHOTO: Rural area resident, ready to evacuate, faces fire and smoke over the back fence.