Wings Magazine

News
B.C. has new weapon to fight forest fires in 2014

July 7, 2014, Vancouver - B.C. has a new weapon in its battle against the hundreds of wildfires that destroy large swaths of the province’s forests every summer. It’s a fleet of skimmer airtankers, an amphibious aircraft that can skim water and continue fighting a fire without having to return to base.


July 7, 2014
By The Vancouver Sun

July 7, 2014, Vancouver – B.C. has a new weapon in its battle against the hundreds of wildfires
that destroy large swaths of the province’s forests every summer. It’s a
fleet of skimmer airtankers, an amphibious aircraft that can skim water
and continue fighting a fire without having to return to base. The Vancouver Sun spoke with superintendent of the
provincial airtanker program Michael Benson and fire information officer
Kevin Skrepnek to find out more about the new fleet, and what it is
costing B.C. taxpayers. The following is an edited version of those
interviews:


Q: When did B.C. acquire this new fleet, and what is it made up of?

 

Advertisment

A:
B.C. acquired four new Air Tractor AT-802F “Fire Boss” amphibious
airtankers this spring ahead of the summer fire season. They are
operated under contract by the Conair Group and put the province’s fleet
of aerial firefighting resources at 24 aircraft. The Fire Boss is like a
mini version of the Martin Mars water bomber, the largest
piston-powered propeller-driven aircraft in the world. Capable of
working as a land-based aircraft or as a float plane, the Fire Boss can
skim water from nearby water sources to continue fighting a fire without
having to return to base.


Q: How much do they cost B.C. taxpayers?

 

A:
They cost about an additional $2.5 million a year, with Conair Group
supplying the pilots. Some of those costs, though, are recovered when
they send the planes to other jurisdictions, which then pay the
operating fees. All of the 24 aircraft in B.C.’s fleet are contracted
out, either with Conair out of Abbotsford or Air Spray Aviation out of
Red Deer. Benson says the aircraft enhance the fleet and have the
potential to save forests, structures and even lives.


Q: What are the advantages of having these skimmer aircraft to fight large wildfires?

 

A:
We could send them all out or divide them up to fight other fires. The
Fire Boss goes out with a “bird dog” spotter aircraft, the lead plane.
In the past, B.C. has mainly used planes to drop fire retardant on a
blaze. But now if the fire is near a water source, firefighters can
potentially put out the fire much faster because they can continually
drop water. The Fire Boss can also drop flame retardant, but its purpose
is to skim water off lakes or oceans. With these, pilots are more
flexible because they can do both. They can also drop foam mixed into
the water. The mixture delays evaporation of the water and helps it
penetrate deeper into the ground. Flame retardant slows the spread, but
the water and foam mixtures are applied directly to the flames, helping
to contain it much faster.


Q: How much water can they pick up?

 

A:
The Fire Boss can load up to 3,025 litres of water in 12 to 15 seconds,
and be back on its way to the fire line in less than 30 seconds.


Q: Have they been deployed to any fires in B.C. yet this season?

 

A:
Yes. Early last month the new airtanker fleet went on its first mission
to support ground crews fighting a fire near Schroeder Creek north of
Kaslo. The planes dropped 222,361 litres of water and foam, and the fire
was contained in 75 minutes. It’s an inexpensive means of delivering
water, at about seven cents a litre. With the Fire Boss, firefighters
can decide to use water and foam, which is much safer if the fire is
near people’s homes.


Q: Where are they now?

 

A: All
four have been deployed to the Northwest Territories to assist with
wildfire suppression in the Hay River area. They can be recalled at a
moment’s notice if they are needed to fight fires in B.C. and all costs
are covered by the jurisdiction requesting the resources. They will be
based in Revelstoke, but can be moved depending on where the big fires
are burning.