Coulson Aviation has sent two of its C-130 aircraft to help fight fires in southern California. The aircraft are tasked to air tanker bases in Santa Maria and San Bernadino. SUBMITTED PHOTO

BC company sends planes to fight California wildfires

Vancouver Island-based Coulson sends two C-130 aircraft to fight fires

Coulson Aviation of Port Alberni has sent two of its aerial firefighting C-130 tankers to California to help fight fires that have been raging out of control in the Santa Ana winds this week.

One of Coulson’s tankers is working out of the Santa Maria air tanker base, and the other is in San Bernardino, Coulson Aviation owner Wayne Coulson said.

“I got a call (Tuesday) morning from the chief from Cal Fire,” he said. Coulson tankers flew 160 straight days with Cal Fire this past season.

“We called back the first tanker, which was in Arizona; we pulled it out of maintenance and got it going,” Coulson said. The second tanker was being loaded to head to Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, but Coulson instead diverted it to Santa Maria, California.

“The Australian fire commissioner was happy to help,” he said.

Six major fires in the southern California area, stretching from Santa Barbara, north of Los Angeles, almost all the way south to San Diego, had engulfed more than 158,000 acres as of Friday. Four fires as of Thursday were burning over 115,000 acres, and two more fires started late Thursday. The U.S. National Public Radio station reported that 4,500 firefighters are battling the blazes.

One of the issues with air tanker assets, according to an article in fireaviation.com, is that many begin maintenance programs at this time of year because it’s typically a slow period. Many employed with Cal Fire have had to have their contracts extended or renewed to “call as needed.”

The Santa Ana winds have also complicated matters: fireaviation.com reports that the strong winds—which have reached up t0 80 miles per hour, according to various American news reports—are difficult for used of fixed wing aircraft over the fires.

“It’s sad and it’s scary. All we do is hold on when it gets like this. I think we could be in California for a while,” Coulson said.

Coulson already has a C-130 tanker stationed in Sydney, Australia: when its contract wraps up on Dec. 9 its crew will fly south to Melbourne to fill in for the other contract on Dec. 13, Coulson said. Coulson Aviation is one of the largest air tanker operators in Australia, with two C-130s, two Sikorsky S-61 helicopters and an intelligence helicopter in operation overseas.

Coulson Aviation has been fighting fires with Cal Fire since 2007, when Wayne Coulson first bought the Martin Mars waterbombers and sent them to California. “The State of California is a great customer of ours,” he said. “We started with the state in 2007 with the Mars, so we’ve been in and out of there for 10 years. We have a lot of good friends down there.”

This is the second time Coulson’s tankers have been in California in the past two months. They also helped Cal Fire attack the fires that ravaged Sonoma County and surrounding wine country. An incident there helped underline how small the global firefighting community is.

“It happened I was dealing with the Australian government. I was talking to one inspector and he asked if I had a C-130 flying the [California] fires,” Coulson related. “We had been assigned a set of properties; he said my parents were watching your aircraft fly back and forth. We worked right around there and their house was saved.

“Whether it be the forest service or firefighters, it’s a small world,” he added.

Neither the BC Wildfire or the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre have received requests for firefighting aid from California authorities. A BC Wildfire spokesperson said that U.S. has tens of thousands of trained wildland firefighters and would need to exhaust that resources before looking to B.C.

“Especially given the fire season that we just experienced here in B.C., our thoughts and support are with the people of California as they face this ongoing situation,” the province said in a statement.

editor@albernivalleynews.com

— With files from Katya Slepian, Black Press Digital

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

One of Coulson Aviation’s C-130 aircraft prepares to divert from Mesa, Arizona, to Santa Maria Air Tanker Base in California to help fight the fires that have stirred up during punishing Santa Ana winds. The aircraft was originally headed to Melbourne, Australia. SUBMITTED PHOTO

One of Coulson Aviation’s C-130s drops a load of fire retardant over the Castaway Restaurant in La Tuna, California, at the end of November 2017. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Just Posted

File Photo
Planned power outage in Port Alice Oct. 27

BC Hydro crews to work from midnight to 4 a.m. replacing substation equipment

Sails down, masks up for Ron and Sherry Pryde, who completed a 119 day journey that was supposed to be 70 days. (Zoe Ducklow)
Coast Guard towed rudderless sailors to Port Hardy hours before a powerful storm

Rudderless for a month, the couple zigzagged most the way home with “a few donuts and lazy-eights”

Port Hardy Chamber of Commerce logo
COMMENTARY: Our money should be spent right here at home in the North Island region

‘By purchasing from local businesses, we are casting our vote for the kind of community we want’

Black Press file photo
Small rise in crime in Port Alice with 85 files opened in third quarter

Port Alice RCMP announced third quarter crime stats

Our Home on 8th, the Port Alberni Shelter that opened in March 2019, has 27 extra ‘extreme weather’ spaces for people who need a place to get out of the cold. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
BC VOTES 2020: Mid-Island candidate plans occupation of shelter to protest homelessness

Graham Hughes says homeless situation a ‘crisis’ in Port Alberni

Parksville’s Jared Huggan won $75,000 playing BC/49. (BCLC/Photo submitted)
Vancouver Island man $75K richer after purchasing winning lottery ticket at Nanaimo Walmart

Parksville’s Huggan plans to purchase electric bike for partner

Actor Ryan Reynolds surprised a Shuswap family with a special birthday message to their son who was worried he’d be alone on his 9th birthday on Nov. 24. (Tiffanie Trudell/Facebook)
Ryan Reynolds text almost gives away Shuswap boy’s birthday surprise

Deadpool actor helps remind eight-year-old Canoe resident he’s not alone

The Cowichan Steelheads’ Jesus Martinez (left) and the Cowichan 49ers’ Daryl Rodgers chase down the ball during Saturday night’s all-Cowichan clash at the Sherman Road turf. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Cowichan masters derby takes unexpected turn with broken leg

Soccer community comes together in midst of battle

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Larry Whetstone is concerned about the condition of Jeffries Road, where he has lived for 30 years. (Robert Barron/Citizen)
Poor condition of rural road in Cowichan has resident fed up

Transportation Ministry says repair plan under development

Vancouver police reactivated the search for Jordan Naterer Thursday Oct. 22. Photo courtesy of VPD.
Mom of missing Manning Park hiker believes her son is waiting to come home

‘He’s going to come out of a helicopter and say ‘what took you so long?”

Environment Minister George Heyman, Premier John Horgan and Energy Minister Michelle Mungall announce that B.C. Hydro is proceeding with construction of the Site C dam, Dec. 11, 2017. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)
Site C actions, costs won’t be known until after B.C. election, Horgan says

Peace River diverted for construction of reinforced dam base

Most Read