AS out-of-control bushfires raged across the region earlier this week, Bathurst man Ben Surawski was among the eyes in the sky helping to contain the massive blazes.
Two large bushfires – a 1276 hectare Belerada Creek blaze at Gowan and a 1671ha fire at Mount Canobolas – sent emergency services scrambling this week.
Both were declared a bushfire emergency by NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons to allow for resources outside the local area to be brought to the scene.
Among the resources was former Bathurst High School student Mr Surawski who helped fight the fires from above in a $2 million Airbus AS350 helicopter.
The helicopter can bring in bucket-loads of up to 800 litres of water to the fire every two to three minutes – or around 12,000 litres an hour.
During the blazes, Mr Surawski said the crew on the chopper were also tasked to the role of “air attack”.
“We look at the fire from above and control all the air traffic,” he said.
“We’re sitting back looking at everyone’s safety and where the fire is moving.
“It’s really like a military operation.”
Due to the intensity of the fires, Mr Surawski said up to 10 aircraft were located on scene at some points
“Those aircraft saved at least six houses,” he said.
“Aircraft are critical for a fast response.”
We’re sitting back looking at everyone’s safety and where the fire is moving.Pilot Ben Surawski
No homes were lost during the Belerada Creek fire, while just one shed was lost at Mount Canobolas.
Helicopters were not the only aircraft on scene, with multiple fixed-wing aircraft and the huge DC-10 Very Large Air Tanker (VLAT) which can hold up to 43,900 litres of water.
Mr Surawski was in the air above the two fires from Saturday to Thursday this week and he said his 10-hour shifts each day went by in the “click of a finger”.
Following high school, he was in the Australian Army for a number of years before he became a pilot.
“Aviation is fantastic, you can travel all around the world,” Mr Surawski said.
Meanwhile, the two blazes are still listed as under control by the NSW Rural Fire Service, while ground and some aerial crews continue to monitor both scenes.
Bathurst temperatures are predicted to reach the early 30s this weekend, with a high fire danger in place on Saturday.