Green Triangle helicopter and pilot help save iconic Mount Gambier mountain

Despite 21 years of flying experience and many battles, aerial firefighter Dave Leoni still gets nervous as he struggles to get airborne over a fire.

“You’re still waiting for that call,” he said.

“You get the call, and you don’t know where [the fire] i.e. what is involved, the dangers involved, the people at risk.

“You always understand, you always have the nerves until you work and assess the situation.”

Mr Leoni and his ‘line’ helicopter, which carries 1,000 liters of water in a bucket under a long cable, were just one of many firefighters and support crews who helped contain the blaze in Crater Lakes at Mount Gambier last week.

The pilot, who operates the B2 Squirrel helicopter recently acquired by the Green Triangle Fire Alliance from Casterton, in south-west Victoria, was in the air less than 15 minutes after the Country Fire Service was “called” ( CFS).

Dave Leoni in the cockpit of the aerial firefighting apparatus.(Provided: David Leoni)

Working with CFS and Metropolitan Fire Service (MFS) ground crews, Leoni flew 87 sorties in eight hours.

He said he was part of a combined effort with the B2 helicopter acting as air support to the fixed-wing aircraft that focused on fires and hotbeds.

“Bombers can cross and throw a blanket of water,” he said.

“Helicopters can then pass and work with [the bombers] against all the spot fires where it tries to spread… we can get to it pretty quickly.

“And with the 100 foot line, you can drop it between the trees and be very precise with a drop.”

Green Triangle Fire Alliance chief executive Anthony Walsh said the helicopter’s ability to use water sources so close to the fire made it extremely useful.

Chopper supports firefighters on the ground

Residents of Mount Gambier witnessed this firsthand when the B2 used the lakes in the valley, at the base of the fire, to fill their bucket.

The Crater Lakes Fire burned 50 hectares of land, but luckily there were no reports of injuries or property damage.

The historic Centenary Tower was not affected by the fire.

Helicopter sitting on the grass near the plantations
The B2 Squirrel is stationed at Casterton and is used to protect the area’s forest estate.( Provided: Green Triangle Fire Alliance)

The Green Triangle forestry companies hired the B2 Squirrel to support its 300 firefighters trained in the plantation industry.

“This helicopter provides additional support to our Forest Industry Brigades who work tirelessly during the summer months to not only defend our forest estate, but also to protect our communities at large,” Walsh said.

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