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You would not know it by our summer on the Island, but there has been an active fire season in the southern interior of the province. C-FMAY, a fuel truck and our crews worked out of the Castlegar airport for several weeks, working a variety of fires in the area. The Hawaii Mars also had a deployment to Nelson BC. The Mars crew spent more than a week on West Kootenay Lake, working several fires with water and Thermo-Gel. The Thermo-Gel product is relatively new to the province and has been getting some positive reviews. The product concentrate is injected into the intake water stream at about a 1% solution. It mixes with the water and decreases the evaporative rate while increasing the suppression characteristics of the load.
The new support equipment for the Flying Tankers performed admirably. The crews were self sufficient on the remote site. Built in generators, computers and satellite tracking allowed the Mars to be tracked and communication was maintained at all times.
|Hawaii Mars arriving in Nelson, BC|
Several research organizations and scientists were on the ground at some of the fires observing the characteristics of the gel. So far, all of the research is indicating positive results in all areas of the study. When it comes to Thermo-Gel, the Mars are the ultimate delivery tool!
The countdown is on until the opening day with a long list of completion items! The BC Lottery Corporation is on site nearly full time for installation and training. The kitchen equipment is being installed this week with many other areas undergoing final completion. Next steps will include many inspections from architects, engineers, building and fire inspectors, health boards, liquor boards etc.
Last year, California pioneered the use of a converted DC-10 jumbo jet to fight wildfires. This year, CalFire is considering putting a giant World War II-era Martin Mars flying boat on its list of standby air tankers. Together, the huge planes would serve as the agency's "big guns," a role that has grown in importance since May 2004 when the nation's premier provider of large air tankers -- the U.S. Forest Service -- temporarily grounded all 33 of its aging airplanes because of safety concerns. It since has reduced the fleet to 19.
Built for the U.S. Navy in 1945, two privately owned Martin Mars seaplanes have been fighting fires in Canada for decades. One was briefly tested in 2000 by California officials, who dispatched it to five blazes and gave it good reviews.
CalFire officials are considering putting a WWII-era Martin Mars flying boat on its list of standby air tankers. Two of the huge planes have been fighting fires in Canada for decades.
"I'm not going to discount a resource that we've used in the past -- and used successfully," CalFire Chief Mike Padilla said. He plans to allow a Mars to be added to the agency's call-when-needed list beginning in 2008. But that's no guarantee that a Mars will ever again fight fires in California. CalFire will continue to rely mainly on its Victorville-based DC-10 for large-capacity drops, Padilla said, and would use the seaplane only in an emergency.
The agency is paying the DC-10's owners $5 million a year under a three-year contract issued months ago for the exclusive use of the 12,500-gallon capacity jet.
The water-scooping Mars can haul 7,200 gallons -- nearly 2_ times the capacity of the largest federal tankers and six times the capacity of each of CalFire's 23 medium-size S-2T Tracker converted submarine chasers.
With a wingspan slightly longer than that of a Boeing 747, the four-engine Mars is as tall as a five-story building and weighs more than 80 tons when fully loaded. "The Mars proved to be a very effective tool," said a report on the state tests conducted in 2000. "The most profound and unique effect of this tanker is the cooling effect it has on actively burning fires. The drop area of the tanker is approximately 3 to 4 acres." But because it has no landing wheels, the flying boat must refuel and reload in the ocean or in lakes. The lakes must be at least five miles long and relatively free of boats. The report listed 28 potential reloading sites throughout California, including the Salton Sea, Lake Elsinore, Diamond Valley Lake, Lake Matthews and Lake Skinner, though not all were considered suitable. "We recommend the Mars be used again ... as a call-when-needed aircraft," the report concluded, "although we strongly also advise that lake and reservoir ... (use) agreements are the critical need at this time."
CalFire's plans to put at least one of the big seaplanes on its standby list comes in the wake of a major push by the planes' new owner to find clients in the United States.
Wayne Coulson, chief executive officer of British Columbia-based Coulson Flying Tankers, said he would like to sign a contract with CalFire or the Los Angeles County Fire Department, or both. Currently, the planes are working for the provincial forestry agency in British Columbia.
"We are coming off contract Sept. 11," Coulson said by phone. "After Sept. 11, if we can't find work for them, we'll pull them out of the water ... and wait for next year. Meanwhile, your fire season is just starting down there." Coulson estimated that the use of a Mars would cost a U.S. fire agency about half the contract price of a firefighting Sikorsky Skycrane helicopter. "We'd be in the $11,000 to $13,000 (per day) range and roughly about $5,000 per (flying) hour," he said. Though the planes are more than 65 years old, Coulson said they are in excellent condition because they have flown only 2,000 hours during the 47 years since the former military transports were retired by the U.S. Navy. "They're like brand-new airplanes," he said. The previous owners invested about 900,000 man hours in structural maintenance, he said.
This year, the forestry department in the province of British Columbia has been evaluating the Mars. Officials say it has done well, largely because the seaplane has onboard equipment that automatically adds a firefighting gel to the water it scoops up and drops.
"We used the Mars on half a dozen fires. They varied from 2,500 to 3,500 acres. And they were on steep ground," said Leigh Barratt, senior air-attack officer for the Provincial Airtanker Center in Kamloops, B.C. "If you've got a (suitably large lake) source nearby, you can do a lot of line building. "It didn't put the entire fire out, but it reduced the number of troops we had to put on a section of the fire because the gel was putting (some of) the fire out. And then you can use that manpower on other parts of the fire." If the fire is within several miles of the reload lake, the Mars can make four to six drops per hour, said Barratt. "We have some lakes that we can't use because we have too many boaters," he said. "Or we get the police out on the lake to clear the boaters, which is reasonably easy to do with a siren and a bullhorn."
Until this year, the seaplanes were owned by timber companies that used them to fight fires in company-owned forests along the coast, an area that typically only experiences a handful of fires annually, Barratt said, explaining why the planes got so little use. Canadian aviation regulations have required that the planes be maintained to the same standards as commercial airliners, he said, so "the fuselage and the airframes are in outstanding condition because of the inspections." The downside to the big planes, said Barratt, are their dependence on having at least one lake close to every fire -- and their relatively slow maximum cruising speed of 190 mph.
"That's why it's important to position it where you think the fires are going to be," Barratt said, "or where they are."