24 Jan 2020

Australia fires: Six volunteer firefighters injured after water tanker rolls

1:53 pm on 24 January 2020

Six Rural Fire Service (RFS) volunteer firefighters have been injured after a water tanker rolled on New South Wales' South Coast as the crew battled a fire.

Firefighters tackle a bushfire in thick smoke in the town of Moruya, south of Batemans Bay, in New South Wales on January 4, 2020.

Firefighters tackle a bushfire in thick smoke in the town of Moruya in New South Wales on January 4, 2020. Photo: AFP

New South Wales Deputy Premier John Barilaro said the six firefighters were taken to hospital with injuries after the crash last night.

It follows the deaths of three US aerial firefighting crew in the crash of a C-130 large air tanker in another NSW town yesterday.

Barilaro told the ABC all six firefighters on board were affected.

"You can see clearly it's tough conditions and our volunteers are going beyond the norm to try to protect community and lives," he said.

The firefighters are being treated at Batemans Bay Hospital for non-life-threatening injuries, including head, back, neck injuries and lacerations.

Meanwhile, a minute's silence was held with fire crews at Sydney Airport Hotel this morning for the three US aerial firefighting specialists who were killed in the waterbomber crash yesterday.

Minister for Emergency Services David Elliott and NSW RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons farewelled 30 US and Canadian firefighters this morning who are heading home after assisting efforts in Australia.

Fitzsimmons thanked them all for their work.

"The fact that you've been able to put your hand up, come over here and commit to us during some of the most difficult and unprecedented fire fighting conditions speaks volumes to your commitment and dedication," he said.

He also confirmed that a state memorial service will be held for the firefighters killed this bushfire season.

Fitzsimmons described the three men killed in the C-130 aircraft crash as "remarkable individuals, well-known, highly respected and regarded as part of the Coulson's Aviation family."

"Three remarkable men, coming down here to Australia once again this season, helping us to save and protect people but tragically this year, they won't be going home to the United States," he said.

'It's just a ball of flames'

A recording has emerged of a radio call to RFS command following the Lockheed C-130 Hercules aircraft coming down yesterday.

In it, a man reports the emergency incident: "Message this is red … Crashed … It's just a ball of flames."

A Large Air Tanker in use against Australian bushfires.

A Large Air Tanker in use against Australian bushfires. Photo: NSW Rural Fire Service

The RFS and the Australian Federal Government have acknowledged there will be setbacks to aerial firefighting across NSW after the crash.

The C-130, which can carry 15,000 litres of water, is a "workhorse", according to Fitzsimmons.

It was deployed yesterday to drop retardant on an out-of-control bushfire north-west of Adaminaby.

Its loss will be a noticeable blow to the fleet but the RFS has stressed there is plenty of aerial assistance available.

"It's absolutely a loss to the aviation capabilities," Fitzsimmons said.

"But we can adapt and accommodate the loss of [this asset] as we have a number of others operating in NSW."

The aircraft, known as Zeus, was contracted through Canadian-American aerial firefighting company Coulson Aviation (USA).

It was one of more than 100 aircraft used by the RFS during the catastrophic bushfire season.

The RFS's fleet only includes one large air tanker, a 737, but they have had contract arrangements to use C-130s through Coulson Aviation for around five years.

"They can be anywhere in New South Wales within an hour and seamlessly integrate into local firefighting operations," Fitzsimmons said.

"Whether it is building retardant lines to limit the spread of fire or having a tremendous knock-down affect on fire spread and flanks of fires, they have been there and in amongst it right throughout the fire season the last five years."

In the wake of yesterday's tragedy, Coulson Aviation said they would ground all large air tankers as a mark of respect but RFS spokesperson Greg Allan said there was no cause for panic.

"[Zeus] was a very valued aircraft, it has done amazing work, but we have a large fleet. We have the support," he said.

Federal Minister for Natural Disaster and Emergency Management David Littleproud said there was no doubt losing a C-130 would have repercussions on short-term firefighting efforts, but reinforcements were on their way.

As part of a $A11 million boost to aerial firefighting announced last December, the Federal Government has invested in four waterbombing aircraft.

"[Three] were brought into Australia last week and another one will be here next week," he said.

"We will … make sure these are able to take up the void of those aircraft that will now be grounded."

Allen said aerial firefighting had been relied upon almost every day since the bushfire season began.

Today will be no exception, Allen said, with air tankers assisting crews on the ground who are battling mammoth blazes on the south coast.


Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs