On a wing and a prayer, fires burning near Batlow have been slowed down for the time being, after three Air Tractor AT-802 water bombers; along with choppers, water bombed the fire front in a sustained assault this afternoon and into this evening.
Pilots and their bombers flew continuous 20-minute round trips, keeping the blaze at bay, up until night fell.
The fire was upgraded to emergency alert when it crossed east of trigger point, Old Tumbarumba Road this afternoon, but soon after planes were grounded, it had been downgraded to watch and act.
RFS volunteer and air base manager Wayne Harrison detailed just how hard his team was working to suppress the fires approaching Batlow after a later than usual start.
“We couldn’t get off the ground because of the smoke this morning but once it cleared, we got going,” Mr Harrison said.
“They come in every 20 minutes and spend three minutes refilling 3000 litres of water that has been supplied by the council via a hydrant that is close by.
“The RFS and SES work together to refill the plane, before the planes head out to fight the fire before the cycle starts all over again.”
Harrison, who has more than 20 years experience with the RFS, complemented the teamwork demonstarted between different teams involved today.
“We have a great rapport with the SES, and the council have been terrific in getting us water; the whole crew has been brilliant,” Mr Harrison said.
As fires picked up this afternoon – when the smoke cleared, oxygen was breathed into the fire front – near Old Tumbarumba Road, the bombers were getting within 100 feet from fire fronts, before dropping the 3000 litres of water mixed with thermo gel, which has helped ground crews get on top of conditions.
NSW aviation legislation prevents flying after dark, so the bombers could only work until 8.30pm.
If the weather is clear enough in the morning, Harrison and his team expects to be back at work at 9am, protecting the Batlow township.
“We dropped gel today but had to stop as it got dark,” Mr Harrison said.
“We will start dropping fire retardant in the morning, which will be mainly used for property protection.”
The RFS is hoping the water bombing will be enough to hold off the fire until morning but conditions are only expected to worsen.
“We definitely made a difference this afternoon and look to have held the front from breaking containment lines but it could get worse very quickly,” he said.
“We can only hope ground crews keep a handle on things before we get back to work tomorrow.”