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Vancouver Island team joins Amazon forest-fire battle

Port Alberni-based Coulson Aviation has been drawn into the forest-fire fight in the Amazon.
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A Coulson Aviation S-61 Sikorsky, one of three helicopters being dispatched to Bolivia to fight fires.

Port Alberni-based Coulson Aviation has been drawn into the forest-fire fight in the Amazon.

The firefighting division of the Coulson Group of companies has been asked by the Bolivian government to help in fighting and suppressing fires in its part of the Amazon rainforest.

Foster Coulson, who is in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, working with that country’s Defence Ministry, said the company now has three helicopters — a CH-47D Chinook and two S-61 Sikorsky aircraft — and a crew of 16 in Bolivia to offer aerial support to firefighters on the ground.

“I have been working with Bolivia for over three years, developing a relationship with the air force and Ministry of Defence,” Coulson said, though he noted it is the first time their aircraft will be active in the country.

The Amazon’s fires are burning well into Bolivia. Some reports suggest 1.5 million hectares in that country have been affected so far.

Coulson, who said they are contracted for at least 15 days in Bolivia, would only say it was “priceless” when asked what the contract was worth.

“Because our mission and purpose as a company is to help in a time of need … help save homes, lives, animals and forests,” he said. “At the end of the day, we live and thrive as a company, going into distressed emergency situations, and offering support to help make a difference.”

While the core of the Coulson Aviation team is housed in Port Alberni, Coulson said they have crews and aircraft stationed around the world.

As demand has grown, there is no longer any down time, he said.

“We have evolved into a global company where customers rely on our aircraft and services 12 months out of the year, 24 hours per day,” he said.

So far this year, crews have been dispatched primarily to Australia and the U.S.

“This time of year into [the fourth quarter] is when South America traditionally requires further support,” he said.

Coulson Aviation is a 35-year-old company specializing in aerial firefighting and heavy-lift operations.

aduffy@timescolonist.com