The Department of Defence has confirmed that an Army MRH-90 Taipan helicopter started the Orroral Valley fire, which ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr has called ‘the most serious threat to Canberra since the 2003 fires’.
Reports indicate that the fire was growing at 400 hectares per hour on Tuesday before being downgraded later that night. It was started by a landing light on the helicopter that generated enough heat to ignite the grass.
“Defence can confirm that the fire currently burning in the Orroral Valley in the Namadgi National Park was likely caused by a landing light from an Army MRH-90 helicopter, while the aircraft was on the ground,” the Department said in a statement. “The helicopter and crew were conducting aerial reconnaissance and ground clearance to enable access for emergency services personnel who were conducting bushfire prevention measures in the ACT.
“It is deeply regrettable that our support operations have likely started this fire.”
At the time of writing, the ACT’s Emergency Services Agency (ESA) has classified the Orroral fire as ‘Watch and Act’.
“The warning level for the Orroral Valley Fire remains at a Watch and Act level warning due to moderate overnight conditions,” the ESA said.
“The Bureau of Meteorology has predicted increasingly challenging fire weather for the coming weekend, driven by extremely high temperatures and low humidity.
“If you do not have a plan you should start preparing now because the situation could get worse.”
Defence also confirmed that ADF helicopters would continue to support the ESA against the fire, albeit without hot landing lights.
“Defence has taken immediate action to reduce the risk of fires being started by helicopters, including not using certain aircraft lighting in extreme weather conditions,” the Department said. “We continue to work closely with the ESA to provide personnel and assets to help contain this bushfire.
“Additional ADF helicopter assets have been deployed to search ahead of the fire, to ensure the area has been fully evacuated and people have observed the park’s closure.”