Friday, April 29, 2016

Getting Bombed in Alberta

As you know, we made it home around the first week of April, and after a few days to sort through 5 months of mail etc, we got another early call in to start work.
Fire season started early again, and Alberta was experiencing record high temperatures and extremely dry conditions, even though eastern Canada was suffering through snow, blizzards, and cold temperatures.
For a nice change, I got to fill in at our local Air Tanker Base.  And since we had the only tanker group in the province for a while, any requirement anywhere in the province resulted in a dispatch of our aircraft.  Sitting in front of the computer map of the province, I could monitor every smoke report from any of the hundred or so towers or lookouts in the province, as well as track any aircraft or helicopter on contract for fire control.
 image1 image3vlcsnap-2016-04-17-14h35m34s725With the extreme hazard throughout much of the province, it was often only a few minutes from when a tower would first spot a smoke till my computer screen would start flashing and beeping to indicate a tanker dispatch request – often followed shortly by a brief phone call from our fire centre to confirm that we had received the dispatch. IMG_1283
I’d then turn on the siren to alert all air crew and loaders that a launch was required.  While I calculated the distance and bearing to the fire, loaders would be donning protective gear and headsets (similar to those used on flight decks of aircraft carriers), aircrews would head out to the planes, and the bird dog aircraft would get airborne and get a head start, while tanker pilots got the big engines warmed up.  vlcsnap-2016-04-17-14h24m03s471vlcsnap-2016-04-19-22h36m51s018vlcsnap-2016-04-19-22h46m19s956
If not already in the loading pit, the big machine would idle up and hold the brakes while the loader filled it with retardant, checking to ensure the exact concentration of each load.  A very noisy, windy, high stress job!  Once full of retardant, the loader gives the pilot an ‘all clear’ sign, the big bird heads for the runway.  vlcsnap-2016-04-19-22h46m56s532I would provide the pilots with the coordinates of the fire as well as distance and bearing. Red stains indicate that this is not the first load of the day for this bomber!
A few days later, another tanker group started at a more northerly base and had just completed their mandatory training drops when they were called down to assist at a fire in our area.  So now we had two tanker groups to keep supplied and loaded with retardant and fuel.
Meanwhile, we were trying to schedule tanker trucks of fuel and retardant to replenish our supplies without interrupting the aircraft loading and fueling!
I had been commuting from ‘home’ during this time, so I’ve now spent a total of 2 weeks in 2016 NOT in the camper.  Of course Hailey was enjoying the vast expanses of a real house with basement, even if not impressed with being left at home by herself all day.  I think she got caught up on her sleep Winking smile  The weather then returned to more normal, and my stint at the tanker base ended and we moved back out to our summer camp on the airstrip near my fire base camp.IMG_3112
Now we can’t wait for the first request to head north and fill in at a fire lookout for a while! Besides, Hailey hasn’t been in a helicopter for at least 8 months!
It’s been a while since my last post, but between working long hours and commuting, combined with internet problems at the base, it’s been a struggle.  If time permits, I may post a few action videos from both my trip up the coast, and time at the tanker base.  But if nothing exciting happens around the fire camp, it may be a week or two before I have enough for another post.  I hope everyone has a great summer!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

California, Or, Wa, Id, B.C. & Alberta!

Well, it looks like the cat is out of the bag!  And I don’t mean Hailey.
Seems Al from the Bayfield Bunch let it slip that I actually made it home to Alberta a few days ago, so the blog had better pick up the pace to catch up with reality.  I only have one small excuse this time (other than sorting through 5 months of mail, Christmas cards, tax info, bills, winterizing the trailer again, and getting the house opened up)  It seems that the DC plug on my computer came loose on the inside, making charging potentially impossible.  It finally had to go in and spend a night at the computer hospital, putting me even further behind!
So – we were still in northern California when we got to spend the night at a very private, secluded spot we know about – complete with an ocean view and free, of course.  Let’s just say that it’s somewhere near Orick!
It was a beautiful and calm evening, just right for a short photo flight!vlcsnap-2016-04-01-18h26m39s238vlcsnap-2016-04-01-18h26m58s029vlcsnap-2016-04-01-18h28m19s209
From there we moved up the coast, spending the next night in another high up ocean view spot on the Oregon coast.
… and a quiet night on a secluded back road I’ve used a number of times.IMG_3054
There were a lot of bridges on the way home.  Here’s the highest one in Oregon.  It’s the Thomas Ck bridge and it tops out at 345 feet.
The bridge over the Rogue River in Gold Beach...vlcsnap-2016-04-10-18h06m50s050
It was actually spitting a bit of rain, so the pics of the bridges at North Bend and Florence ended up on the cutting room floor!  The bridge at Waldport made the cut...
The bridge at Newport got the nod as well!
Sadly, at Lincoln City we said ‘so long’ to the coast and headed inland.  As always, the huge parking lots behind  McMinnville’s Aviation and Space Museum provided another overnight spot before heading into the Portland traffic.  The museum has an impressive array of all types of aircraft and spacecraft, both indoors and out and is the home of Howard Hughes’ famous ‘Spruce Goose’.  Well worth the stop if you are in the area.  Next day, off through Portland.
vlcsnap-2016-04-10-17h52m14s117Lots of bridges in Portland!vlcsnap-2016-04-10-17h50m51s291
From here, the Columbia river provides us with the best route inland, with a choice of I-84 along the south (Oregon) bank or Hwy 14 on the north (Washington) bank.  Although only two lane for much of it’s length, the Washington side usually gets our vote as it is a bit more laid back and in my opinion, much more scenic as it goes through the Columbia gorge.
Not so many bridges here, but lots of cool tunnels!
It’s a very major transportation route with highways and railroads on both shores and lots of barges and tugs plying up and down the river and through the locks.vlcsnap-2016-04-10-17h37m29s614
And in case you are concerned about ‘distracted driving’, you can rest assured that all these photos on the road are simply ‘stills’ cut from video of my GoPro camera.  I was worried that I had virtually no photos from the last week of the trip, till I started to review the video and pick a few scenes to show.  So now you know!vlcsnap-2016-04-10-17h34m15s827vlcsnap-2016-04-10-17h42m04s007
At Kennewick we get to cross the Columbia again, but this time we remain in Washington state as the river curls around and heads north where it flows out of Canada.vlcsnap-2016-04-10-17h29m17s114
So, more bridges of course!vlcsnap-2016-04-10-17h27m51s596
From there we caught 395, as it leads us ever northward towards Spokane, Washington, and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.  Fortunately, from there they have signs directing me home to Canada!
More bridges, and I feel like I’m crossing Lake Pontchartrain down in Louisiana, as the causeway leads across Pend Oreille Lake at Sandpoint, Idaho.vlcsnap-2016-04-10-17h22m38s477
Other than a bit of rain back on the coast, the road, weather and travel conditions were excellent, in stark contrast to the snow and cold that eastern Canada and the US were experiencing.
In no time at all we were at the border.  As usual at this location, there were no lineups, and after a 30 second conversation, we were back in good old British Columbia in search of the nearest Tim Horton’s coffee!  Near Cranbrook, we holed up for the night at St Mary’s River B&B.  Now, I didn’t actually stay at the B&B, but rather parked in the driveway and visited with my friends who operate it.  Check it out if you are in the area – good fishing, too!
After a scenic crossing of the continental divide, through both Kootenay and Banff National parks – where I used to live and work – we were on the last leg of the homeward journey.vlcsnap-2016-04-10-17h14m46s401
There is one last tunnel, though!vlcsnap-2016-04-10-17h19m01s293
Before long, the gate slid open and we were home!  But not for long …

It looks like we’ll get to spend only about a week at home, before heading a bit further north for the summer job.  For the first while at least, this is what I’ll be working with …IMG_4065IMG_0500IMG_4011
Forest fire season is well under way here, and I’ll hopefully be filling up these bombers with water and retardant to help snuff out the flames.  If you have to work – it may as well be fun!