MEET two of the most important men in Canberra.
While most residents of the city have probably never heard of Canadian helicopter pilot Keith Kristian, 31, and his New Zealand colleague Bruce Lilburn, 39, the pair has been given one of the most important jobs in the jurisdiction this summer - responding to potentially catastrophic fires before they reach residential areas.
As Canberra prepares to mark the tenth anniversary in January of the firestorm that claimed four lives and tore through Weston Creek destroying hundreds of homes, authorities have prepared a small army of land and air-based response units.
They have also established a network of closed circuit television cameras in national parks to the city’s west to guard against arson attacks.
Mr Kristian’s helicopter, a Bell 212 medium twin, is on loan from his native Canada.
It can carry 1400 litres of water and it takes only 30 seconds to fill the belly tank on the underside of the huge machine.
The pair have already been called out to four fires, most recently at Gunning on December 23.
‘‘There were five water bombers ... we dropped almost 40 loads, 40 tanks of water,’’ Mr Kristian said.
The light single helicopter carries about 600 litres of water and dumped about 42 loads of water.
‘‘The medium twin has a higher payload so you can be more effective on the bombing runs,’’ he said.
The choppers and pilots are in the ACT for the bushfire season as part of a 2003 agreement between all Australian States and Territories to coordinate bushfires combat under The National Aerial Firefighting Centre.
But even with video cameras, aerial surveillance and water bombing capabilities ACT Fire and Rescue is counting on the general public to call-in any suspicious activity this bushfire season.
On Thursday ACT Fire and Rescue were called to three separate fires. Police suspect all three were deliberately lit.
A spokesman from ACT Police said vigilant Canberrans were the first line of defence against fire-bugs.
‘‘Our main source of information is the public and we encourage anyone that see’s anything suspicious in regard to fires to contact ACT Police,’’ he said.
ACT police can be contacted on 131444 or information can be provided anonymously through Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or at www.act.crimestoppers.com.au.