AN AMERICAN DC-10 water-carrying plane ordered for last summer's fire season, and which would have saved lives, was cancelled at the last moment, a union official says.
The plane, which can dump 43,000 litres of water at a time, was expected by firefighters in anticipation of one of the worst fire season on record, the national secretary of the United Firefighters Union, Peter Marshall, said.
An official was sent to the US a year ago to organise its lease, and to check its operations, he said last night.
"It was all set to roll, and the expectation here was that it would be one of the tools for fighting fires, but at the last moment it was not delivered."
Mr Marshall said a submission went to cabinet that would have allowed the use of the plane, but it appeared it was rejected on budgetary grounds.
"It would have made a difference, especially down Traralgon way," he said.
"It was not the be all and end all, but it would have made a difference, it would have saved property and saved some lives."
Approached by The Age last night, a spokesman for Environment and Climate Change Minister Gavin Jennings was not prepared to comment on Mr Marshall's statements.
A Russian offer to use its water-bombing planes, which have five times the capacity of the "Elvis" helicopter used to fight the Black Saturday blazes, was rejected because the planes were deemed unsuitable for Victoria's landscape.
Following revelations in The Age that two Ilyushin-76 jets were offered three days after Black Saturday, Premier John Brumby also said it would have taken three weeks for the planes to get approval to fly from aviation authorities.
Analysis of the planes by the Department of Sustainability and Environment found they were unsuitable, and could risk lives.
"These big planes, they come down to 500 feet," said Mr Brumby.
"You could imagine in some of these big areas, flying throughout some of our high country, how difficult and testing that would be."
Russia was told of the decision to decline the offer on February 21, two weeks after Black Saturday. The DSE's chief officer of operations, Craig Brown, said the Russian aircraft should not be seen as a "silver bullet", saying ground crews, rather than aircraft, extinguish blazes.
"Flying heavily loaded, multi-engine jet planes slowly at heights of 500 feet in mountainous and possibly smoke-obscured terrain poses enormous safety considerations," he said.
Shadow Emergency Services Minister Andrew McIntosh questioned the view that the planes were not suitable for Victoria, saying they had been used successfully in California, Greece and Russia.
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