Air tanker contract could extend as Fraser fires rage on
A large aerial tanker on loan from Canada may have its stay extended in the battle to contain a blaze which has ravaged world-renowned Fraser Island.
Fire and Emergency Services Minister Mark Ryan said the contract for the current season for the Conair Q400 large air tanker had already been extended beyond its initial 84-day stay.
The extension took the plane's stay out to December 12 to assist Queensland Fire and Emergency Services and Mr Ryan said that could be extended further.
"Should the large air tanker be needed beyond that date a further contract extension may be negotiated," he said.
"The large air tanker has been used on several occasions in recent days, and is one of more than 20 firefighting aircraft available to Queensland Fire and Emergency Services today.
"The experts, our firefighters decide when and how to use the large air tanker.
"It is an operational decision for them."
The plane is able to dump up to 10,000L of water at once, and can also drop foam or fire retardant gel to assist firefighting efforts on the ground, usually in the creation of firebreaks and containment lines.
Conair is a Canadian company established in 1969 which specialised in aerial firefighting.
Mr Ryan said there were "relatively few large air tanker operators" internationally and no commercial suppliers of the aircraft in Australia.
He said the Royal Commission into bushfires had recommended the Federal Government introduce a national aerial firefighting fleet, a recommendation Mr Ryan said had not been followed.
He said the State Government had taken decisive action to ensure Queensalnd wasn't "left exposed" without large air tanker capability.
Mr Ryan said the contract was flexible and was able to be extended where necessary.
Firefighting sources told the Daily this week the large air tanker had not been used extensively during the Fraser Island blaze so far, and that the crew had been on a break to reset for several days.
Mr Ryan said large air tanker operations were "very specialised" and used specially-configured aircraft and "very specifically trained aircrew".
"It is an expensive capability," he said.
"To have one permanently based in Queensland would not be a good use of taxpayers' money, as the aircraft would be sitting idle for much of the year.
"It is a better use of taxpayer funds to contract large air tanker capability for the time of year its needed, the fire season."
The tanker is also available for use elsewhere in Australia, as other firefighting aircraft interstate can be used in Queensland.
The ABC reported in late-August that the Conair plane and services of its crew had been secured on a $15 million, five-year lease deal by the State Government.
LNP Shadow Fire and Emergency Services Minister Dale Last this week called for a full independent inquiry into the Fraser Island bushfires.
Mr Ryan confirmed the Inspector-General of Emergency Management would conduct an independent review to "determine what, if any, lessons can be learned from this event".
The bushfires have been burning for six weeks and scorched through about 82,000ha which equated to almost half the island.
The World Heritage-listed island was closed to visitors late last week and the current fire front is threatening the renowned Kingfisher Bay Resort and Village, with a prepare to leave warning in place for the landmark resort.
A Department of Environment and Science spokesman said Queensland Fire and Emergency Services had assisted Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service from the first week of the fire's outbreak on October 14.
The spokesman said the agencies had worked together and shared information from the outbreak to when responsibility for management of the fires was shifted to firefighters.
That transfer of responsibilities from park rangers to firefighters took place on November 27 "when the threat of impact to structures and lives increased" the spokesman confirmed.
"The two agencies, along with the Butchulla Aboriginal Corporation, continue to work together on the operational response," the spokesman said.