Trevor J Pike, Bellingen
On October 21, 2009 the Sydeny Morning Herald reported that the federal government and all east coast state governments rejected an offer from the Russian government to provide Ilyushin 76 Water Bombers to help fight catastrophic bushfires throughout Australia.
The Ilyushin 76 is a Modified Military Heavy Lift Transport Jet which is highly manoeuvrable and can operate out of short-length country and regional airports. They can dump 42,000 litres of water, drenching a path 100 metres wide and 500 metres long in a single pass.
The Russian offer of help was repeated by their Ambassador in a letter submitted to the Royal Commission Inquiry into the February 2009 fires that killed 173 people.
The Ambassador said that their emergency ministry had concluded that just two Ilyushin 76 Water Bombers would have been enough to cope with the firefighting near Melbourne in February 2009.
The Russian offer has been on the table for ten years; with successive state and Commonwealth governments still rejecting the offer.
If these governments, (and fire commissioners), had genuine concern for the safety and well-being of country communities, volunteer bushfire fighting crews, native wildlife, our forests and water catchments then we would (by now), have eight to ten of these planes operated and maintained by the Royal Australian Air Force.
At the outbreak of the recent and ongoing NSW North Coast fires we could have stationed one at Lismore Airport and one at Coffs Harbour Airport. The Town of Rappville could have been saved. Wytalibah community could have been saved.
North Coast fires could have been put out. Scores of farms and houses could have been saved. Billions of dollars worth of property could have been saved. Forests, koalas and other wildlife could have been protected from agonising death, and water catchments protected from the total dehydration that unchecked wildfires cause.
Our governments’ rejection of the goodwill and offer of help from the Russian government amounts to ten years of ongoing criminal negligence.