A Vancouver Island aviation company is once again fighting fires in British Columbia.
The Port Alberni-based Coulson Aviation has signed a five-day contract with the province to send a water-bombing Sikorsky S-61 helicopter to battle wildfires in B.C.’s Interior.
“We were getting ready to go on contract down south [in the U.S.] and thought we’d check with the province first,” said Wayne Coulson, CEO of the Coulson Group of Companies. “They looked like the may have needed some help.”
The helicopter started work on Monday morning (July 5) in the Kamloops area. After five days, the province will “reassess” the contract, said Coulson.
“It’s kind of cool to have some of our equipment back home,” said Coulson.
The last time Coulson Aviation fought fires in British Columbia was in 2015. This was also the last time the Hawaii Mars water bomber was in service. Coulson said he is still looking at options for the Hawaii Mars and its companion, the Philippine Mars. Although the bombers are maintained to an operational status, Coulson believes their firefighting days have passed.
“I don’t think they’ll ever fight fires again,” he said.
Coulson Aviation has instead been focusing on its new fleet of air tankers and helicopters. All of Coulson’s tankers are currently under contract in the U.S., but the S-61—which can carry approximately 1,000 gallons of water—was available for firefighting duties in B.C.
Coulson has had S-61s in operation for 36 years, working in the timber harvest business, passenger transport and a few other industrial operations. On its website, Coulson Aviation describes the S-61 as the “rotary wing workhorse” of the fleet.
“It’s had a really colourful life,” said Coulson.
Coulson Aviation usually spends the summers fighting fires in the U.S. The company has approximately a dozen aircraft based in the Los Angeles basin, four of which are running 24 hours a day. In the wintertime, the aviation company usually sends its fleets to Australia and Chile.