Approximately 12 helicopters actioning the Placer Mountain Fire Complex use Princeton airport as a home base. Photo: Bob Marsh

Heroes in the sky – fighting BC wildfires from the air

With all those helicopters in the air at once, and no radio control tower equipped with radar to track them, communication becomes key in keeping pilots safe.

In 29 years of fighting fire from the sky, Kevin Cochrane has never witnessed an accident, or even a near miss.

“They are few and far between,” he said in an interview with Black Press. “They do happen once in a while but it certainly isn’t a common thing.”

Cochrane is the air operations branch director responsible for the Placer Mountain and Snowy Mountain fires.

On any given day over the past week he has co-ordinated the activities of up to a dozen helicopters actioning the fires near Keremeos.

While the aircraft are able to refuel at a staging site closer to the fires, they fly in and out of Princeton airport shuttling crews and equipment back and forth from the fire lines.

Related: Crews mop-up Placer Mountain fire, still 90 per cent contained

BC Wildfire contracts with a number of different commercial aircraft companies, and their pilots and engineers have specific training, he said.

Their tasks include surveillance and finding access points, conducting aerial ignitions for controlled burns, and long-lining, which involves dropping nets of equipment to fire crews on the ground using lines that are anywhere from 50 to 250 feet long.

“The big one is bucketing support to drop the water,” said Cochrane.

While there have been reports this year of recreational boaters interfering with bucket crews trying to pick up water, that has not been a problem for the Placer Mountain Complex of fires, he said, as they are using remote alpine water sources.

“You wouldn’t find evidence of a human being on these lakes and rivers.”

Related: B.C. firefighters repeatedly impeded by recreational boaters on Okanagan Lake

Pilots assigned to fire crews must also be competent in hover exits, which is dropping passengers onto the ground without landing, if the terrain is too uneven to safely set down.

With all those helicopters in the air at once, and no radio control tower equipped with radar to track them, communication becomes key in keeping the pilots safe. They use radios to communicate.

“The big piece is that everyone is using the same frequency so they can stay in touch with each other.”

In the case of large fires, like those on Placer and Snowy Mountain, a coordinating pilot is put in the sky to observe aircraft activity and direct traffic.

The maneuvers are not without risk, he said, and the environment demands constant adjustment to conditions.

“They called in the retardant bomber the other day on Snowy but they couldn’t get in. The winds were all over the place and it was smokey quite quickly. The didn’t have the visibility to drop.”

While Cochrane is not a pilot he has logged more air miles than many of the people flying for him today.

“It’s an interesting job.”

Related: No B.C. region left untouched with 462 wildfires burning

To report a typo, email:
publisher@similkameenspotlight.com
.



andrea.demeer@similkameenspotlight.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Short-term accommodations in Canada generated an estimated $2.8 billion in 2018

British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec generated almost 90 per cent of total revenue

Early indications say allergy season could be milder this spring

The Aerobiology Lab collects pollen samples from across Canada to help make predictions

Spring equinox welcomed by final super moon of 2019

Spring has sprung and did you catch that moon

Colwood, Esquimalt mayors support potential passenger commuter ferry

Mayors Rob Martin and Barb Desjardins hopeful study will continue

The sun streak continues with a high of 18 C today

Showers expected this weekend so enjoy it while it lasts

Five highlights in the 2019 federal budget

Latest budget includes a sprinkling of money for voters across a wide spectrum

Greater Victoria Wanted List for the week of March 19

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

POLL: When do you think the next major earthquake will hit Vancouver Island?

According to seismologists, Vancouver Island is overdue for a magnitude 7 earthquake.… Continue reading

40 records broken across B.C. as hot streak continues

Abbotsford hottest spot in Canada on Tuesday

B.C. wildfire prevention budget bulked up as dry spring unfolds

Night vision goggles tested for early detection effort

Vancouver driver ticketed twice within 6 minutes for same offence

The man was written up by two different officers for using an electronic device

B.C. teacher reprimanded after incident with Grade 11 student in school gym

Gregory Norman Brock was teaching at a high school in the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows School District

B.C. man ‘parks’ horse during liquor store pit stop

As long as animal wasn’t jaywalking, no problem, says Parksville official

Starbucks to test recyclable cups, redesign stores in B.C., U.S. cities

The company also said it plans to redesign its stores as it adapts to increasing mobile pick-up and delivery orders

Most Read