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Super hero powers

10 February 2017

Emergency management personnel have a second set of eyes in the air helping to provide intelligence about fires after the sun goes down.

In Victoria, Night Vision Goggles have been used as a way of expanding current day air operations into the night.

Yesterday, a two-person pilot and crew set out in a Firebird 302, a helicopter customised for night vision purposes, for a two-hour reconnaissance mission – on the lookout for fires ignited by lightning strikes.

They watched over the Dandenong Ranges, Healesville, Mount Macedon, Wombat State Forest, south of Ballarat into the Brisbane Ranges and Plenty Gorge.

Although no fires were detected, Forest Fire Management Victoria Senior Aviation Officer Bryan Rees said the intent was to continue to build on existing operations while maintaining specialist skills.

“This is exactly the same as reconnaissance day operations that we do all the time – but just at night.

“There are the same challenges with day operations, for example, too much cloud or smoke are still limitations at night.”

The capability of night operations was a recommendation from the 2009 Bushfires Royal Commission.

Operators of Night Vision Goggles are specially trained and accredited personnel.

The devices have been trialled in Victoria in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 fire seasons with the view to introduce it as part of normal air operations.

Early 2015 the devices also detect multiple fire starts in the north east following a band of dry lightning, which enabled ground crews to be dispatched and successfully kept small fires small.

“We have had good use of it so far, but there have been limited opportunities this year,” Mr Rees said.

“We also used it in December 2015 on Wye River as a way of investigating if the fire had stayed within containment lines.

“The use of Night Vision Goggles is just one tool in a box of other devices to aid the pilot and crew in provide intelligence during air operations.”