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

Your candidates for Mayor and Council

The two candidates running for Kimberley Mayor and the 15 running for… Continue reading

Full house attends Council candidates forum

The Kimberley Chamber of Commerce held an All Candidates Forum at McKim… Continue reading

Election signs are being tampered with in Kimberley

Kimberley City Council candidate Michelle Nex is frustrated that someone is pulling… Continue reading

‘Police are ready’ for legal pot, say Canadian chiefs

But Canadians won’t see major policing changes as pot becomes legal

RCMP make arrests after crime spree

Two B.C. residents are in custody after evading police in Fernie and… Continue reading

Rick Mercer says pot is ‘excruciatingly boring’

Comedian hopes Canadians will move onto something else once marijuana is legalized

Canada Post union issues strike notice; rotating strikes could begin Monday

Union says rotating strikes will begin if agreements aren’t reached with bargaining units

Carole James avoids questions on B.C.’s payroll tax (with video)

Green MLA Adam Olsen cites huge tax increase for local business

Three Nelson marijuana dispensaries to remain open after legalization

Nelson’s police chief has no plans to close them down

2 charged for feeding B.C. bear Tim Horton’s timbits

Court documents show that Randy Scott and Megan Hiltz have both been charged with feeding or attempting to feed dangerous wildlife.

Killer-rapist Paul Bernardo set for parole bid after 25 years in prison

Bernardo’s parole hearing at the Bath Institution is expected to attract numerous observers

Feds aiming to select preferred design for $60B warships by end of month

Defence insiders say the government wants to select a design by the end of the month from among three options submitted by several of the largest defence and shipbuilding companies in the world.

B.C. city wants control over its cannabis advertising rules

Without a say, towns and cities risk Washington-State-style flood of advertising, proponent says

Defence cautions against mob justice in Calgary child neglect trial

Jennifer and Jeromie Clark of Calgary have pleaded not guilty to criminal negligence causing death

Most Read