Monday, September 10, 2018

More Fires

We finally gave up watching the forest fire airshow going on just west of Castlegar, BC, and decided to head a bit north, up towards Slocan Lake.  After checking out a couple of side roads, we settled for this short spur road off the highway, with a nice high lake view.  The ‘watch cat’ was on duty watching for anyone else that might try to get too close!



Next day, we continued on northward, through Silverton, New Denver, and Nakusp.  We have traveled that way many times, but it was a pleasant surprise to find a brand new (still under construction) Forest service rec site – right on the water, just a few km north of town!

IMG_0139IMG_0131Because of it’s convenient location close to town, the highway, and the lake, I suspect it will become very popular when people discover it.  I also suspect it will be a ‘fee’ site.  So It was greatly enjoyed before the crowds come.


Though the ‘plan’ called for a continued northward trajectory, that all changed in the morning when a msg arrived advising that friends Gary and Kim were camping south along the lake at Burton.  So we headed that way instead.

IMG_0140IMG_0141We were reminded the fire season was not yet over as we headed south of McDonald Creek PP.  Helicopters were working this fire, bucketing out of the lake, and a couple of firefighters were spotted along the highway, presumably setting up a pump in the creek.


As usual, we were not in a rush, so found an out of the way spot to watch the air show for a while.


A ‘cat line’ (no relation to Hailey) had just been completed at the base of the fire above the highway, so the cat was loading up and getting gone.


We met up with Gary and Kim and some golfing friends of theirs near Burton, enjoyed some refreshments by the lake, and returned to their campsite for some supper and to solve a few of the world’s problems around the (propane) fire.  With the fire bans in place for most of the province most of the summer, the firewood sales people will not be making a buck – unless they also sell propane burners!


Hailey and I retreated to our ‘new-found’ spot by the lake with only the sounds of the loons, geese, herons, and osprey to wake us in the morning.

After that, the original ‘plan’ was back in effect, with a few more photos of the fire as we passed by.  This time we made it all the way to the Galena Bay – Shelter Bay ferry, and crossed the lake.


Since last time we had spent any time in the area, a new log dump had been constructed, and the first few km of the road along the lake shore greatly improved.  We just had to check it out, and it proved a good spot for some aerial views.


About 10km down the lakeshore is Eagle Bay forest service rec site, so we carried on to check it out.  It is a pretty nice spot and I suspect it is packed with families most of the summer (the price is right), and there were a half dozen rigs still there after Labour day, but there was plenty of room, so we got a private spot by a gurgling creek.

IMG_0187The fire ban was still in effect, but I guess someone determined that it was serious enough to put 3 signs at the entrance, as well as at least three more down among the campsites!


According to the calendar, we have been on the road this time for going on three weeks.  With luck, as long as the fires quit burning and the creeks don’t rise, we might be back home in a week or so to see if the grass needs cutting yet!

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Nothing but fire-fighting aircraft.

After we left Kevin and Ruth above Castlegar, BC, we drove a bit west to check out a previous camp spot.  It was right on the water at the end of the Lower Arrow Lake.

There are forest fires burning all over British Columbia, and this area is no exception.  A province-wide state of emergency has been in effect for a couple weeks now.  Most of the last two weeks have been smoky everywhere, in many cases too smoky to see the scenery and too smoky for aircraft to safely take action on the numerous fires.  Today however, the smoke cleared up a bit, and the planes were back in the air.  And, as it turned out, they were scooping water from the lake directly in front of where I was parked!

This type of water bombers are small, but effective as they travel in flocks, and if the water source is close to the fire, they can be quite effective.  They are essentially air tractor planes, designed for crop spraying with large engines for their size. Typically they add a small amount of foam to the water they have scooped to make it more effective when it hits the fireline.


This particular variety operates on floats, so they can scoop water from lakes and rivers near the fire, but they also have retractable wheels so that they can land at airports.IMG_4812IMG_4820IMG_4837IMG_4839IMG_4844IMG_4860IMG_4849They were dropping their loads not far away, but it was over a high ridge, so I could not see the drop zones.


They put on quite an airshow, and lots of locals came out to the shoreline to watch – even while many of them may have been on evacuation alert.


Further down the lake, helicopters were also battling the blaze, filling their buckets in the lake, then either dropping it on the fire line above, or filling portable tanks crews were using to supply fire hose lines.


Hailey watched some of the show as well, and is fairly used to all the noise from us living at a fire base camp and fire lookouts for several years.

IMG_0110Back in town the next morning, we caught the same squadron taking off to resume action on the fire.


There was also a group of the same type of planes at the airport, but these ones are on wheels only, so they must return to the tanker base after each drop and be re-filled with fire retardant.

When any bombers are in action, there is always a ‘bird dog’ plane with an Air Attack officer aboard circling overhead. This person controls the airspace around the fire and makes sure the water or retardant is dropped in the right locations, that any ground crews or equipment is out of the way, and keeps the many helicopters and bombers separate from each other.  Typically, all airspace around a fire is closed to any other aircraft to help reduce the risk of conflicts.  And of course, UAV’s or drones are strictly forbidden, so mine stayed in the camper.

IMG_4932IMG_4933There were also some much larger bombers operating on the fires in the area, but typically they were flying higher, and not in good positions for a photo. I also scan many of the radio frequencies, so I can hear the bird dog pilot’s directions to the bombers and listen in to the bomber pilots discussing the goats they have spotted on a nearby mountain!

For some great shots of the large bombers, check out my old post from when I was working at an air tanker base in Alberta.

Unfortunately, fire fighting whether from the air or ground is not without risk. 

One of the larger helicopters working this fire was forced to jettison his water bucket when he got into a difficult situation.

When I was still working with Alberta Wildfire in 2015, one of these small amphibious planes was caught in a violent ‘fire whirl’ when fighting a fire near Cold Lake causing it to crash, and the pilot unfortunately did not survive.

I have been in contact with this pilot’s parents a couple of times since, as they are occasional readers of this blog.

And most American readers will no doubt remember the tragic loss of 19 firefighters on the ground at the Yarnell, Az fire just a few years ago.


Many fires burning all throughout the region.IMG_4968IMG_4969

Don’t worry, I’m not about to keep up with my recent blogging pace – but when I have some interesting photos, you’ll likely get to see them!