British Columbia

B.C. fires: Martin Mars water bomber could return to service, says owner

The owner of the iconic, red-and-white Martin Mars water bomber says the B.C. government has agreed to add the flying tanker to its wildfire-fighting arsenal.

Province ended contract for world's largest water bomber in 2013

Talks are underway to bring the last remaining Martin Mars water bomber back into service. (Canadian Press)

The owner of the iconic, red-and-white Martin Mars water bomber says the British Columbia government has agreed to add the flying tanker to its wildfire-fighting arsenal.

The water bomber's owner, Wayne Coulson of the Coulson Group of Companies, says he has been talking to the province for the last 90 days about recalling the aircraft into service, but the government didn't think it needed the help until about a week ago.

He says if the aircraft is needed, the government has agreed to "piggy back" it onto an existing contract where his company already supplies helicopters for firefighting services.

B.C. Forests Minister Steve Thomson cautioned there are challenges with working with the plane, which was built for the U.S. Navy during the Second World War.

"It's an iconic resource, it is old," he said. 

"There are lots of challenges with that resource. It's not the most cost effective and can only be used in very, very strategic situations."

The plane, which is roughly 70 years old, has been sitting idle at Sproat Lake near Port Alberni since B.C. ended a contract with the company two years ago. 

One of B.C.'s hundreds of active wildfires is burning just across the lake from the company's base, prompting more than 17,000 people to sign a petition demanding the government put the plane back in service to fight the wildfires. The Coastal Fire Centre says that blaze has now destroyed an uninhabited cabin.

Between 2007 and 2013 the B.C. government had a contract with Coulson to use the lumbering planes to fight forest fires.

The four-engine plane has the largest capacity of any water bomber in the world at 27,000 litres. But in 2014 it was replaced with a contract for smaller, newer aircraft that were better able to navigate B.C.'s mountainous terrain.

Earlier this year a plan to trade the aircraft with a museum was scuttled by Canada's heritage minister.

With files from Canadian Press

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