With forest fires raging in Alberta, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories — as well as in the United States — Air Spray Ltd. has been moving its aircraft like chess pieces in an effort to defeat the flames.
The company has dispersed its fleet of air tankers and bird dog planes from its operations base at the Red Deer Airport to locations in Alberta, British Columbia, the Northwest Territories and Yukon. Although the damp spring reduced the early need for Air Spray’s services in the two western-most provinces, there was no such reprieve in the Northwest Territories.
“It’s been very busy up in the Northwest Territories since Day 1,” said Paul Lane, the company’s vice-president and chief financial officer.
The Yukon has remained quiet, but recent fires in Alberta and British Columbia now has all of Air Spray’s eight Canada-based L-188 Electras and support bird dog planes hopping.
“We’ve got everything going,” said Lane.
One of the wildfires Air Spray has been battling is the blaze near Banff National Park, south of Hwy 11. Rocky Mountain House has served as its base of operations in that effort.
The company has also moved a plane and crew from the Yukon to assist in British Columbia, where a number of fires are burning. And an Air Spray air tanker in Penticton, B.C. has been flying missions into Washington State — travelling nearly as far as Spokane.
Lane explained that Canadian firefighters help their southern counterparts when needed. With the Electra’s 4 1/2 hour flight time and 11,400-litre tank capacity — enough for a dozen fire retardant drops — it can attack fires deep into the U.S. without touching down there.
“It’s actually easier for them to fly back to Penticton, reload and come back again,” said Lane. “If they did land in the U.S., unfortunately they’d have to go through immigration.”
Air Spray also has an Air Tractor AT-802F water tanker under contract in Oregon, with another available for backup. These have been helping suppress wildfires in that state and Idaho.
This year, said Lane, Air Spray has assembled a spare crew that travels around to spell off their counterparts as needed. This helps keep the planes in the air, he explained.
“In prior years, we’ve seen it when our groups get timed out,” he said, referring to the daily and weekly flight time limits that crews are subject to.
Ensuring adequate rest is important in the fire-fighting business, said Lane.
“These are pretty high-stress environments that they’re in.”