Campvale, Salt Ash bushfire: Gaia, a Boeing 737 Large Air Tanker, has first fire-fighting flight in Port Stephens

Port Stephens has become the first location in the world to have a Boeing 737 Large Air Tanker (LAT) used to fight a bushfire.

The large red and white plane, called Gaia, was made operational by NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) for the first time on Thursday and could be seen flying over Port Stephens to support the efforts of fire crews on the ground battling the Campvale bushfire.

All four of the RFS LATs were being used to battle the blaze at Campvale and Salt Ash on Friday.

NSW RFS Inspector Rolfe Poole, who was on the ground in Salt Ash on Friday, said the aerial support in fighting the fire has been “incredibly effective”.

“We have been using the Large Air Tankers, water-bombing helicopters, sky cranes, and fixed-wing aircraft. We’ve really been using all RFS resources that are available,” Inspector Poole said.

“These Large Air Tankers are incredibly effective.

“We’ll always need boots on the ground but what this aerial support does is support those firefighters on the ground by knocking down the firefront.

“Using flame retardants from the air, we are able to get in front of the fire and slow its progress.

“This comes in handy on days like today [Friday] when the conditions make it too intense for firefighters to physically get in front of it.”

The RFS thanked the RAAF Bases at Richmond and Williamtown on Friday for their assistance with the LATs.

The RFS said RAAF firefighters are providing assistance in the “upload of water and tower staff are assisting firefighting airspace clearance”. 

Gaia is the first 737 to be used for firefighting anywhere in the world.

The tanker can carry more than 15,000 litres of fire retardant to drop strategically over fire grounds.

Gaia will be used for direct attacks on both bush and grass fires, creating containment lines, and providing protection in urban areas.

The LAT and two fixed wing scanning aircraft were purchased by the RFS after it secured $26.3 million in NSW Government funding this month.

The new aircraft will be permanently based in NSW instead of being leased from overseas.

Gaia is the last of four LATs to arrive in NSW.

NSW RFS Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers said the LATs have proven to be an “incredibly important asset”.

“Having these aircraft available to assist our firefighters on the ground is such an important tool to have in the kit all year round,” he said.

“The new ‘Gaia’ aircraft can carry more than 15,000 litres of fire retardant to drop strategically over fire grounds as the frontline response continues, providing an invaluable support.”

Gaia was used operationally for the first time on Thursday afternoon by providing support to ground crews at the Richardson Road, Campvale and Hospital Road, Weston fires.

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