Royal Australian Air Force plant operators typically prepare and repair airfields, but some of their heavy machinery was used recently to prepare bushfire defences south of Canberra.
This included a fire break around the Royalla Solar Farm, cut by plant operator Leading Aircraftwoman Alesha Rogers, of Townsville’s Number 65 Squadron.
“We're removing any shrubs around the perimeter to reduce the risk of a fire jumping the fence or burning up to the fence and crossing over,” she said.
“If the solar farm here was damaged that would impact power going to Canberra. You don’t want that.”
The fire break was cut as part of wider Australian Defence Force efforts to assist the ACT emergency services prepare infrastructure defences amid dangerous fire conditions.
Before Leading Aircraftwoman Rogers started cutting the firebreak, she took a close look at the ground.
“We’ll usually walk around the area first to make sure there’s nothing about that can surprise us - like the barbed wire we found stuck in the ground,” she said.
“I also noticed a lot of wombat holes, so I go around those. If something is living in there, I don’t want to bury it.”
Before arriving in the ACT, Leading Aircraftwoman Rogers helped create fire breaks near Tumut driving a grader and bulldozer.
“With the dozer you’re just pushing dirt; with a grader you’ve got to follow your windrows [lines of dirt piled by the grader’s blade] and see where the blade’s tow and heel are going,” she said.
Leading Aircraftwoman Rogers said many community members were surprised to see Air Force operating plant equipment.
“I guess a lot of people don’t know the Air Force has plant operators. We tell people what we do with making airfields and it kind of makes more sense to them,” she said.
“Other times we’re asked if we’re pilots, so we’ll say ‘yes, we pilot graders and bulldozers’.”