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.They 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.
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.
There 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.
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!