Sky Crane Saves Escarpment.

By Peter Andrews, © 2002.
November 9, 2002.

It was around three o'clock Friday afternoon when a familiar and chilling, brown cloud started to appear above the campus of Wollongong's university. Such clouds have for some time now, become the subject of fear for many coastal, rural and mountain dwelling Australians', living within or near the bush.  
The summit of Mount Keira from the Wollongong Botanical Gardens.  

It has only being less than twelve months since those other enormous plumes of smoke and ash, funneled their way across the Tasman Sea to Auckland. And within their wake, burnt gum leaves were deposited in their billions over land and sea. The high-tide mark on many Sydney and Illawarra beaches ran black for a month or so thereafter. So huge were these plumes of smoke, they clearly showed up on weather satellite photographs. And on reaching Auckland, the city's air pollution readings went completely off the scale. 

The full perspective with Mount Keira and the the dying brown lawn of the Botanical Gardens. The lawn reveals that even the coastal regions of southeastern Australia have been in drought for quite some time.  

With such memories still fresh within minds of many in southeast Australia, this latest and quickly growing brown cloud was clearly a sign of impending disaster. 

It was reported in the Illawarra Mercury that temperature just before three o'clock hit 38 degrees C (100 F) at the university weather station. And walking through a deserted botanical garden nearby around that time, there was no difficulty in guessing that the humidity reading was most likely to be next to nothing.


Fortunately for the escarpment, the only factor missing to complete the right mix for a total disaster was the predicted hot north-westerly winds. But the Illawarra Escarpment in 2002 had one other benefit that it had lacked back in 1969 on Black Friday. 

The Erickson Sky Crane on its way to having a big dump.  


Due to their overwhelming success last Summer, the popular Erickson Sky Cranes were back to help out in what is clearly going to be another potentially difficult season for bushfires and for those who have to fight them.

And in action.


Being well into the afternoon when this new fire had taken hold, time was limited for any helicopter water bombing, as such a task at night is not a consideration for safety reasons. 

So with the fire growing and time to contain it quickly running out, the huge Erickson Sky Crane was left with little choice when it came to a source of water. 

The combination of incorporating a quicker option of scooping up sea water just off North Wollongong Beach and a lack of a hot north-westerly wind, obviously paid dividends. 

By lunch the following day, most of the numerous spot fires that looked quite threatening throughout the night, were well and truly out. The Sky Crane and other helicopters were back out in force from dawn, this time drawing fresh water for bombing from reservoirs at the back of the escarpment. 
Scooping up sea water, just off North Wollongong Beach. The smoke in the background is from other fires, up in the northern suburbs of Wollongong.  


Many in the Illawarra would of no doubt, be quite happy with the outcome of this bushfire, one of a few within the region happening on the same day. However, with predictions of very little rain until Autumn next year -- and an enormous accumulation of mulch on the ground as a result of months of drought conditions, there is still quite a long way to go before any threat of any potentially dangerous fires will abate.


A Long Walk on a Short Day: June 22, 2001.

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Peter Andrews © 2002. All Rights Reserved.