Tens of thousands of litres of fuel is being airlifted using Army CH-47 Chinooks and RAAF C27J Spartans from RAAF East Sale into fire-devastated communities across east Gippsland and north-eastern Victoria.
CAPTION: Australian Army and Royal Australian Air Force personnel work together to load a diesel fuel bladder to for Mallacoota power station onto a RAAF C-27J Spartan at RAAF Base East Sale during Operation Bushfire Assist 19-20. Photo by Corporal Nicole Dorrett. Story by Flight Lieutenant Bel Scott.
RELATED STORIES: Operation Bushfire Assist 19-20
Once the fuel arrives into isolated areas, it’s being used for generators to maintain power to the community until main power sources are restored.
The Australian Army’s 9th Force Support Battalion has a team of 18 personnel manning a pop-up bulk-fuel installation on base to fill smaller bladders with diesel and unleaded petrol.
Officer in charge Australian Army Captain Dan Cateley oversees the safety of the site as well as when and who they deliver fuel to in support of Operation Bushfire Assist.
“In Mallacoota, a small element of the same team is on the ground managing the transported fuel – some days working up to 20 hours to keep power running,” Captain Cateley said.
“At times during the operation, flying ops temporarily ceased due to smokey conditions and poor visibility, but the team were always ready to go at a minute’s notice.
“The Spartans use something called drum fabric collapsible that can hold 1800 litres of diesel and weigh 200kg empty.
“[When filled] the rubber bladder is moved by the Mobile Air Load Team, and loadmasters control the load onto the aircraft safely.”
At least six people have to remain with the 136,000 litres of fuel at all times, even camping nearby so they can provide an immediate response if needed.
There’s also a 40,000-litre bladder filled with water and firefighting gear is ready to go in case of an accident.
Private Liam Gallagher said this was his first deployment, to assist with the bushfires.
“It’s been fairly full-on, but the commander has been looking after our section’s wellbeing,” Private Gallagher said.
“I’ve really enjoyed seeing all the international support from New Zealand and Singapore come to our country’s aid, they brought more helicopters to help move fuel, supplies and people.
“Also working closely with our Air Force brother and sisters in arms in a high-tempo environment has been an awesome experience.”
ADF personnel have been providing direct support in the field, at sea, in the air and from Defence bases across fire-affected regions since September last year.
“Doing this work is very rewarding, being able to help people in your own country is really satisfying,” Captain Cateley said.
“We have been here since the beginning and will continue to support emergency services until the roads are cleared, deemed safe and re-opened.”
Air Force Spartans have been particularly busy throughout Victoria with 119 flights moving 139,001 pounds of cargo, 1014 passengers, 22 cats and dogs, and 14 koalas over 116 hours.