It’s a question that pops up every wildfire season in B.C.: Where’s the Martin Mars water bomber?
The short answer: It hasn’t been used in years in B.C., and its return isn’t likely.
On Saturday, with the White Rock Lake fire burning quite close to the northwestern shores of Okanagan Lake, Global News fielded several calls from some area residents, wondering where the famous and incredibly large plane is.
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According to the website Martinmars.com, the plane has a wingspan of 200 feet and a tank capacity of 27,200 litres. It can reportedly deliver up to 91,000 litres of product per hour, though it needs approximately 4.8 kilometres (three miles) to operate from.
Originally built for the U.S. Navy in the Second World War, they were later redesigned for “long-range general transport,” including water or foam to drop on wildfires.
On Saturday, the BC Wildfire Service discussed why it isn’t contracting out the Martin Mars water bomber.
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Notably, in 2018, BC Wildfire told Global News that while the bombers are an impressive sight as they come in for a bombing run — faster, smaller and more precise aircraft are now considered the standard for firefighting.
“We have more modernized contracts with our current fleet,” BC Wildfire information spokesperson Forrest Tower told Global News on Saturday.
Tower said while good discussions can be made at how much water a Martin Mars can hold, “the Wildfire Service is using modern fleets and modern aircraft that work better for us in B.C.”
He added that the contractor has work outside of Canada, “so they’re seemingly happy where they are.”
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“But it’s not that we’re ignoring any offers of assistance; it’s just that this is the fleet that works for us and is a bit more modern than what we’ve used in the past.”
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BC Wildfire’s aircraft fleet includes the Air Tractor AT-802F Fire Boss airtanker, with the agency reporting that each plane is capable of skimming 3,025 litres of water in 15 seconds from over 1,700 bodies of water in B.C.
During large wildfires, it’s a common sight to see three Fire Boss airtankers in a row. The plane also has a much shorter takeoff distance at 1,970 feet as compared to the Martin Mars.
Callers to Global News also asked why they aren’t seeing fixed-wing aircraft battle the blaze.
Asked if fixed-wing planes are, indeed, fighting the fire, BC Wildfire said yes.
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“In terms of resources we put on our (specific wildfire of note page), we normally stick on helicopters, because those are tied to the fire,” said Tower.
“But we have had air tankers, working there all yesterday, kind of on the northern flank, along the Monte Lake area. So we do have air tankers that are working on this fire all the time.
“We just don’t assign them to this fire because they move around to where they’re needed. But, yes, we do have an air tanker fleet that’s been actioning the fire fairly aggressively throughout the past week and longer.”
BC Wildfire says 13 helicopters are bucketing the fire, and that those won’t be moved.
Tower also noted, “there’s a lot of fires in B.C. right now, and, in terms of air opportunities, we need to manage that.”
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— With files from Jon Azpiri.
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