Aerial fleet activated to protect WA’s grain harvest

  • Firefighting aircraft to be strategically based in agricultural areas during harvest
  • Program has proven hugely successful at preventing crop fires from escalating
  • Starting date brought forward in response to increasing fire danger in central WA

Fixed-wing waterbombers will again be based in grain-growing regions to boost firefighting capability and reduce the severity of crop fires during the hottest stretch of harvest.

Now entering its third year, the Grain Harvest Aerial Fleet allows strike teams to be deployed to high-priority fires at short notice, boosting response times across Western Australia’s nine-million hectare grain production area.

The fleet, originally scheduled to start its first deployment tomorrow, has been activated today in response to a trough that will increase fire danger ratings through central WA this week.

Two strike teams will be periodically based throughout the Mid West-Gascoyne, Wheatbelt and Great Southern regions, with the duration of each deployment to be based on ongoing risk assessments.

One team will start in Geraldton today and the second team will start on 8 November at Cunderdin in the Central Wheatbelt.

Each strike team includes a five-person crew, two fixed-wing waterbombers, an air attack supervision aircraft and a fuel truck that can be deployed to assist ground crews.

The fixed-wing waterbombers can cruise at a speed of 280km per hour, drop up to 3,150 litres of water, foam or retardant and require just minutes to refuel and reload.

During the 2022-23 harvest, the strike teams completed 205 drops across 28 incidents, dropping 645,750 litres on firegrounds from Geraldton to Esperance.

The program is funded by the Department of Fire and Emergency Services with support from the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions and Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development.

As stated by Emergency Services Minister Stephen Dawson:

“By strategically basing aircraft in areas where there is increased bushfire risk, we can reduce response times and better protect regional communities.

“Crops provide an easy source of fuel for fires to take hold, so this strategy is about supporting firefighters on the ground in the initial stages of fires.

“Crop fires are often sparked by machinery or lightning and when combined with dangerous weather conditions they can escalate quickly.

“Not only does this protect agricultural communities during a time of heightened risk, it also supports a crucial part of the Western Australian economy.”

As stated by Agriculture and Food Minister Jackie Jarvis:

“The Grain Harvest Aerial Fleet will not only help protect farmers and regional communities, but also Western Australia’s nine-million hectare grain production area.

“The grain sector is extremely valuable to the WA economy and is the State’s second largest export commodity.”

As stated by Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner Darren Klemm AFSM:

“We make the decision to boost firefighting capacity for the hottest and driest stretch of the harvest period because of increased fuel loads both crops and other vegetation.

“These waterbombers will support grain growers and our volunteer firefighters to provide a rapid response during the most fire-prone period of harvest.

“We will closely monitor fire conditions across the Mid West-Gascoyne, Wheatbelt and Great Southern regions during the harvest period and can redirect the aircraft based on risk assessments.”

/Public Release. View in full here.