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Orange angel flies in fire relief

Date

Ewa Kretowicz

ACT Chief RFS Officer Andrew Stark talks with SkyCrane pilot Brian Pilmer.

ACT Chief RFS Officer Andrew Stark talks with SkyCrane pilot Brian Pilmer. Photo: Rohan Thomson

SITTING quietly on a helipad at Hume is the ACT's secret weapon - Camille, the orange bushfire fighting monster.

The sister to better-known Skycrane Elvis, hero of the 2003 Canberra bushfires, is an orange monster.

She can carry 10,000 litres of water, and sucking up the liquid load from a source that can be just 1.5 metres deep takes only 45 seconds. By comparison the biggest chopper on stand-by in the territory during the bushfire season can carry 1400 litres of water.

Camille's presence in Canberra - she arrived on Saturday morning - highlights just how dangerous weather conditions in the territory have become.

Camille is in the ACT for the bushfire season as part of a 2003 agreement between all Australian states and territories to co-ordinate bushfire combat under the National Aerial Firefighting Centre.

Chief officer of the ACT Rural Fire Service Andrew Stark said the ACT government could not afford to borrow the helicopter from the US without federal funding.

''$14 million of Commonwealth money helps to fund this resource and, on a day like today, we move them to where the highest risk is - so it's great to have a resource like this here standing by in Canberra,'' Mr Stark said.

Helicopter pilot Brian Pilmer, 65, has been flying helicopters and fighting fires for almost 40 years. Based in San Diego in the US, Mr Pilmer is here on a three-week on, three-week off contract during the height of the fire season.

On Friday, he and Camille dropped more than 40 loads of water on an out-of-control blaze in NSW.

He said the helicopter, which cost $16 million, was a life saver but hoped it wasn't needed in Canberra.

''I like to fly, but I'd as soon sit on the ground when it comes to fires and weather like this.''

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