Air Spray and its fleet of tankers and spotter aircraft have been busy weeks ahead of the usual peak fire season.
The Edmonton-based company, which has a large maintenance facility at Red Deer Regional Airport where 130 are employed, has been especially busy in B.C., where more than 300 fires are burning across the province.
Nearly 80 new fires were sparked last weekend, triggering evacuation orders in some communities. On Sunday Regional District of the Okanagan-Similkameen officials issued an evacuation order for dozens of properties near Skaha Lake, which is about 10 km south of Penticton.
Air Spray chief operating officer Paul Lane said on Monday that the company has four tanker groups with seven airtankers in B.C. responding to the fires.
“Everything we have is deployed — literally everything,” said Lane. “It’s been busy really for the last three weeks or so.
“B.C. is the real hot spot right now.”
Typically, the busiest time in B.C. is usually in August, “and we’re at that level of busy-ness right now, and we have been for a little while.”
While the work may be coming earlier than usual, Air Spray is always ready.
“It’s what we train for. It’s what we do. It’s nothing unusual for us to be busy all the time.”
In Alberta, where Air Spray also has four tanker groups and nine airtankers, the fire season can begin as early as April. The 2016 Fort McMurray fire, which forced the evacuation of nearly 90,000 people and destroyed 2,400 homes and businesses began on May 1.
A few days before that, Air Spray had already been in action at a fire near Whitecourt.
“Every year is different. The last two years it’s been very, very quiet.
“You just get the right mixture of heat and winds and that’s what sets the fire situation going.”
While Alberta has not been as busy as B.C. activity is starting to pick up in this province, he said. Air Spray also has a tanker group in the Yukon and has 11 other planes fighting fires in the U.S.
“We were busy up in Alaska until the end of last week,” he said.
The Pacific Northwest has also been very dry and Air Spray has been busy in Washington and Oregon.
The changing climate is having an impact on how Air Spray goes about its work.
“The trouble is now with climate change etc. we’ve switched from having a fire season to basically almost doing year-round operations. We’ve been asked to send aircraft this winter down to Chile.”
“It’s become a much more international and a much more integrated industry right now. There are way more assets to protect and seemingly a lot more fire on the landscape.”