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

Friends of the Kimbrook present $6,078 for Kimberley Food Bank

All through the year the Friends of the Kimbrook raise funds for… Continue reading

Kimberley Mayor “disgusted” with federal decision on elected official pay

Change in federal tax law means no more tax deduction for elected officials; pay will increase 12 per cent to make it up

East Kootenay Track and Field Club looking for board members

The club needs a minimum of five board members to keep their non-profit status.

Tips for fire safety this holiday season: Kimberley Fire Department

Fire Chief Rick Prasad says that winter is often the busiest season… Continue reading

Man caught on camera allegedly trying to defraud ICBC

Auto-insurer warns B.C. drivers to record info after crashes

Teenager Alphonso Davies wins Canadian Men’s Soccer Player for the Year Award

Derek Cornelius and Chilliwack native, Jordyn Huitema were named Canadian Youth International Players of the Year

B.C. teen MMA fighter shows heart

Young Unity MMA competitors bring home Ws

2,000 Canadians died of an overdose in first 6 months of the year

New data from the Public Health Agency of Canada shows the crisis is not subsiding

Another B.C. city votes to ban single-use plastic bags

First six months of proposed ban would focus on education, not enforcement

UK Prime Minister Theresa May wins party no-confidence vote, but troubles remain

May won the vote of 317 Conservative legislators with a 200-117 tally

B.C. trustee’s anti-LGBTQ comments got him barred from schools

Barry Neufeld calls vote to leave him off liaison list ‘workplace discrimination’

Firm says trees obstructing vision at Humboldt Broncos crash intersection

Sixteen people died and 13 others were injured in the collision at an intersection north of Tisdale

Man charged after B.C house fire triggers high-grade explosives

Thomas Daniel Kendall charged with causing bodily harm by failing to properly store explosives

Most Read