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!


  1. Well there ya go again off to another exciting & fun filled fast paced summer. Well except for some of those long lazy days with your feet up in a fire tower. Some guys have all the luck........

  2. Our son flew water bombers for Conair for four summers. He was the pilot killed at the Cold Lake fire last May. We got to tour the Conair base in BC, and find it comforting to simply understand his job better. Thanks.

  3. Upriverdavid10:49 pm

    A great summer and no fires down here in the Wenatchee N.F.unlike last year works for me...

  4. Nice to see you back doing what you find as fulfilling work. Just be certain to find time for yourself and Hailey.
    Be Safe and Enjoy!

    It's about time.

  5. Just saw some video from the fires currently burning up there. Hope you are safe and busy helping.