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Thursday, 3 January, 2002, 11:03 GMT
Elvis - king of the firefighters
A helitanker fights fires outside Sydney
The Air-Crane can bomb fires with 9,500 litres of water
Elvis is alive and well, helping to tackle bushfires sweeping the Australian state of New South Wales.

The Erickson Air-Crane Helitanker - dubbed Elvis because of its time with the US National Guard in Memphis, Tennessee - helped save almost 300 homes in Sydney's north-west suburbs, dumping thousands of gallons of water on the advancing flames.

Super soaker
Makers: Erickson Air-Crane Incorporated, Oregon, US
Cost: $7.5m
Capacity: 9,500 litres (2,100 gallons)
Weight: 10.2 tonnes empty; 21.3 tonnes full
Size: 27 metres (83ft) long ; 8 metres (26ft) high
Power: Twin 5,000 horsepower engines
The $7.5m helicopter arrived in New South Wales last Saturday, on loan from the Victoria State Fire Service where it has been leased by aviation firm Helicorp for the fire season.

It has proved such a powerful weapon, that New South Wales Premier Bob Carr has said they are considering placing an order for them.

Each Elvis Air-Crane requires a crew of two pilots and three engineers.

It sucks up to 9,500 litres (2,500 gallons) of water into its belly in just 45 seconds through a flexible hose or a ram-scoop and can dump the whole lot in three seconds, or at a controlled rate using on-board computers.

'Wall of water'

At the height of the fires around Sydney on Tuesday, the Air-Crane made 40 trips as emergency crews on the ground and residents fought side-by-side to protect homes.

One resident who e-mailed BBC News Online told how the helitanker helped to save homes by spraying down "a wall of water".

An Air-Crane helitanker in action
The helitanker helped to save homes in Sydney
Its capacity is far greater than other fire-fighting helicopters - which only carry about 1,400 litres of water in buckets.

The Air-Crane has been in demand all over the world and in October 2001 the South Korean Government bought one after the country suffered serious forest fires in March.

The crew currently manning the Air-Crane in New South Wales have seen action in Greece and Italy.

Arson suspected

So far, more than 160 homes have been destroyed by the fires in Australia and about 300,000 hectares (740,000 acres) of bush - an area twice the size of greater London - have been burnt.

Police believe many of the fires have been started deliberately.

About 10,000 fire-fighters are involved in the operation.

See also:

03 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
Australia victims flee to beach
31 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australian newspapers herald public spirit
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