From the article by Alistair Ogden on the Victoria buzz web site – July 14, 2017

A Salmon Arm photographer has given an insider’s view of the Martin Mars Water Bomber debate.
A Salmon Arm photographer has given an insider’s view of the Martin Mars Water Bomber debate.

Jodie Lemke, owner of Jodie Lynn Photography, updated her Facebook status, creating a post that has since gone viral. However, Lemke says the post wasn’t written by her, but rather by an anonymous fire-fighting helicopter pilot.

The post begins. “I am just one of hundreds flying on these fires and fighting them for a living. The reason why the Mars is not on the fires is because we have equipment that does a faster more efficient job from smaller lakes which can put more water on a fire per hour.”

People have been calling for the provincial government to utilize the Martin Mars Water Bomber in the fight against BC’s wildfires since the plane’s owner, Wayne Coulson, revealed that he’d offered up its services last week.

However, according to the anonymous pilot, the one-of-a-kind water bomber’s actual effectiveness is doubtful.

“Water doesn’t put out a fire, the crews do,” the anonymous pilot wrote. “Large aircraft such as what you have read about in this article take crews off the fire lines, sit helicopters on the ground for hours and stop precious production and critical gains,” the pilot wrote. “[The Bomber’s] water comes out at a force which sends embers out and start spot fires.”

“[The water bombing method] loosens ground, blows over trees creating hazards and ruins guards put in by crews. For everyone out there please get these ideas out of your heads and realize there is a reason why we don’t use these planes.”

But the pilot’s concerns didn’t end there. He also addressed the possibility of nighttime operations, such as those Coulson had said would be possible with other aircraft he’ said made available.

“As for the night ops, this is a great idea in California or in the desert where at night you have long string drops and easy terrain but in BC it doesn’t work that way,” the pilot wrote.

“There are night crews working and they don’t need any more dangers.[sic]”

Lastly, the pilot called out the behaviour of people on social media.

“It is an insult to all of us who are working 18 hours days with no food and no place to sleep while we try to save people’s houses and animals and you sit at home telling us what is best. There is so much more to it then just putting water on a fire otherwise don’t you think we would do just that!! Please educate yourselves before posting about this topic and or sharing with others as it is not needed. Look at the photo, no plane can fly in that smoke and heat and no water will put out a kilometer wide, 200 foot wall of fire.”


Fire-fighting helicopter pilot speaks out against Martin Mars Water Bomber
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3 thoughts on “Fire-fighting helicopter pilot speaks out against Martin Mars Water Bomber

  • August 13, 2017 at 8:39 am

    How effective was the $9m VLAT on the Sir Ivan Fire? The RFS hierarchy believes this technological behemoth is our saviour.

    Whilst Helicopter water bombers are tactically effective on the fire ground, in reality fire fighters and RAIN put bushfires OUT!

    The $9m could be better spent on new fire stations, training centres and equipment for our volunteer firefighters.

  • August 13, 2017 at 9:38 am

    Andrew, thanks for you comment.

    The only true saviour (in a wildfire context) is improved land management practices backed up by well supported firefighters.

    We did receive one positive comment from the Sir Ivan fire about the Very Large Air Tanker (VLAT) by a farmer who stated that the VLAT seemed to suppress the fire for a while BUT he then said that the ground crews were not available to mop up and the fire recovered in a relatively short period of time. That observation lines up with the original context of the article titled : Fire-fighting helicopter pilot speaks out against Martin Mars Water Bomber.

  • August 15, 2017 at 7:33 pm

    The observations by the pilot strike me as being very true and honest.

    You might have seen the article I wrote on water bombers a couple of years ago and which was published at Quadrant On Line and on this web site.

    I received a serious bucketing from the aviation industry and some sneering comments from journalists over this. We forget that to the aviation industry water bombing is a business, and an extremely rewarding one. To the journalists it is wonderful drama. Whether or not the operation is effective in terms of controlling wildfires is of little concern to either.

    I was intrigued to hear in another forum recently a senior officer of the US Forest Service referring to water bombing as “an extractive industry”. He provided details about the way the aviation industry has penetrated the agency’s budget to such a degree that it is now extracting funds from all their other work, including the work of fire prevention and mitigation. The proportion of the Forest Service budget spent on water bombing has increased at about the same rate as the size and severity of bushfires. This officer, a very experienced firefighter, was contemptuous of the ability of water bombers to make an iota of difference to the control of a high intensity wildfire.

    Although we have resisted the temptation to hire Very Large Air Tankers in WA, our authorities have been seduced into putting vast sums into water bombers (including the ridiculously expensive and largely useless “Elvis” brought from the US) while at the same time the number and severity of fires increased out of hand. The view of my organisation (The Bushfire Front of WA) is that investment in fuel reduction and other mitigation works would be far more effective and way cheaper.

    The water bomber has a place in the arsenal – it can help to contain a small fire under mild conditions until ground troops arrive. But they are absolutely useless in slowing an intense forest fire, and cannot operate in high winds or at night.

    Possibly the one thing that makes me most angry about the whole business is the lack of accountability. Nobody is telling the public what it costs, or whether or not there is a cost/benefit. When I tried to find our the hire rate for the DC10 used in NSW, I was told this information is confidential. For crying out loud! How are governments allowed to get away with such a dodgy piece of work as this!

    Roger Underwood

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