Martin Mars’ firefighting season likely over

The 30-day contract between the provincial government and the company that owns the Martin Mars water bomber has come to an end, and the company CEO says that likely means firefighting duties for the huge plane in B.C. are over for 2015.

“We were on [at least four] different fires, dropping a million litres, costing the government approximately $600,000,” said Wayne Coulson, CEO of the Port Alberni-based Coulson Group.

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He said he thinks the Martin Mars proved its worth. The Martin Mars was retired from firefighting service in 2013, but was brought back for this summer’s forest-fire season.

Firefighting duties for the Martin Mars came in familiar territory, Coulson said.

“The Mars’ stomping ground had basically, over the years, for the most part been Vancouver Island,” Coulson said.

The aircraft’s first fire this year was in Port Hardy. Then it was off to Sechelt, where the Martin Mars had also done considerable work in the past, he said.

“And then Dog Mountain lit off, which is a mile from where the aircraft had been sitting on land.”

Coulson said he saw the start of the Dog Mountain fire, near Port Alberni, from his wharf at Sproat Lake. He said it is lucky the fire didn’t start in August, when winds in the area come up in the afternoon.

“It’s just the way it worked out, it was early in July.”

Coulson said the Martin Mars was prevented from being deployed at the ongoing Lizard Lake fire near Port Renfrew when the chief pilot became ill.

He said he is not optimistic about the Martin Mars being called on in the 2016 fire season, since different types of equipment are becoming the norm.

In 2014, the B.C. government contracted for the service of four Air Tractor AT-802F “Fire Boss” air tankers.

The B.C. government says the Fire Boss tankers cost less to run and can be used in different types of terrain. Due to its size, the Martin Mars can scoop up water from only 113 bodies of water in the province, compared with 1,700 for the Fire Boss.

The Fire Boss tankers, which have a tank capacity of 3,025 litres, are also able to refill faster. The Martin Mars can hold up to 27,250 litres of water.

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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