British Columbia is burning up in the hot, dry weather the summer has delivered, but the iconic red and white Martin Mars waterbomber is absent from the skies. And a Port Alberni man is hoping a public crusade will change that.
Chris Alemany started an online petition at change.org asking the provincial government to contract the Martin Mars for five more years “to protect B.C.” By Wednesday, he had collected more than 18,000 signatures.
Alemany intends to deliver it to Christy Clark’s riding office in Kelowna on Thursday afternoon.
Martin Mars owner Wayne Coulson, of Coulson Flying Tankers, said the Hawaii Mars could be operational in eight to 10 days, if the government reinstated the aerial tanker.
“It’s unfortunate (the aircraft) is on the ground and not out there helping,” he said.
He would consider a contract if the B.C. Wildfire Management Branch approached him, he added. “Our goal is to support the firefighters and the people fighting fires in the province.”
The provincial government is defending its decision to halt B.C.’s use of the Martin Mars in favour of four newer Air Tractor “Fire Boss” water-scooping amphibious planes from the Conair Group of Abbotsford.
The B.C. Wildfire Management Branch said the smaller aircraft are more flexible because they can operate from more than 1,700 lakes compared to just 113 with the Mars. The new planes can also drop water, foam or retardant on a fire, with an ability to deliver 3,025 litres on a seven-minute turnaround, compared to 19,000 litres with the Mars on a 19-minute round trip.
The branch said in a statement the new Fire Bosses delivered fire suppressant twice as fast during the recent West Kelowna fire—586,000 litres in 11.3 hours—as the Martin Mars dropped during the 2003 Kelowna fire.
“Over the past six weeks, the new Fire Boss aircraft have actioned more fires than the Martin Mars did in six years.”
According to the province, it offered the firm an “as when needed” contract for the 2014 fire season but got no response.
Coulson said he did not apply for the contract because “they had said they didn’t want the aircraft.
“When a customer doesn’t want the product you have to move on,” he said.
“The Mars is an excellent firefighting tool. We have to live with the decision by the government.”
The firm received unanimous support from the Union of B.C. Municipalities last fall, which passed a resolution imploring the government to reinstate the contract.
Beat Felber and his wife Claudine, visiting Vancouver Island from Riehen, Switzerland, stopped in Port Alberni intent on seeing the Martin Mars. Felber had been to Vancouver Island 25 years ago and just missed seeing the water bomber demonstrate a water drop at a Victoria Airshow. He was disappointed that the Martin Mars wasn’t on the water last week.
“They belong in the air,” he said.
— With files from Jeff Nagel, Black Press