Air Spray staff, planes helping fight wildfires in B.C.

Tanker planes and staff with Air Spray Ltd. of Penhold are working full throttle on the wildfires burning in British Columbia.

Aircraft maintenance technicians Bob Willis

Aircraft maintenance technicians Bob Willis

Tanker planes and staff with Air Spray Ltd. of Penhold are working full throttle on the wildfires burning in British Columbia.

“The general manager is flying. I’m flying. The chief pilot is flying. So there’s absolutely nobody from operations in our office,” said Air Spray operations manager Perry Dancause on Thursday from Prince George, B.C.

“Yesterday was the first day the particular airplane I’m on did not fly. It was slightly cooler.”

Since mid-July, the company has had five tanker planes, instead of the usual three, working out of the Prince George Airport. Air Spray also has three small turbo passenger Bird Dog planes to guide the tankers, and about 25 staff there to fly and maintain the aircrafts.

Dancause said firefighters have their hands full in B.C.

“There’s some horrendous fires out here. You just kind of stand back and go — wow.”

As of Thursday, B.C. had 829 active wildfires burning.

Fires are raging are all over the place, Dancause said.

“The other day we went to a fire 100 miles (160 km) west of here. We flew over six fires to get to that one.”

Tanker crews have been working from morning until dark, flying wherever they are needed.

They can fly eight km a minute carrying 13,600 litres (3,000 gallons) of fire retardant, a high-sulphur content fertilizer.

Tankers team up with a Bird Dog, which carries a forestry officer who has ground communication. Once they arrive, Bird Dogs either lead the tanker to exactly where retardant is needed or stay overhead to monitor.

Retardant is used on the edges of a fire to help contain the flames and buffer areas like communities, structures or newly re-forested land.

Tankers, which used to be 60-to-80-passenger planes, dump their loads while flying 36 to 45 metres above the trees.

“We’re really not in there very long. Just do a load, get out of there and get another one,” Dancause said.

The last fire he flew to was burning very close to Bella Coola, about 700 km northwest of Vancouver on the B.C. mainland.

Six tankers are stationed in Prince George and when the fire bell goes off, everyone scatters, he said.

Dancause hasn’t had the opportunity to photograph the devastation.

“At the time you could take good pictures is the time you’re so busy so you can’t take a picture.”

Air Spray expects to remain on alert in B.C. until the hot, dry weather subsides and fires are under control.

szielinski@bprda.wpengine.com