British Columbia

Vancouver Island company sending helicopters, crews to fight Amazon fires

At the request of the Bolivian government an aviation company based in Port Alberni is sending three helicopters and crews to help suppress wildfires raging in the Amazon rainforest.

Coulson Aviation, based in Port Alberni, has 3 choppers en route to Bolivia

As more than 165,000 fires burn in the Amazon rainforest, the world faces diplomatic as well as environmental turmoil. (CBC)

A family company on Vancouver Island is sending support to South America to help contain the wildfires raging in the Amazon rainforest.

Coulson Aviation, based in Port Alberni, has three helicopters and crews currently heading to Santa Cruz, Bolivia, at the request of the Bolivian government to help with fire suppression efforts. All three aircraft and the Coulson team are expecting to arrive later this week and begin work.

"We have large buckets and we basically are slinging water on top of the flames, working directly with on-the-ground firefighters," said Wayne Coulson, company president and CEO in an interview with CBC's On The Island.

Coulson called this action "direct attack" and said that while fire suppressant will be his teams' primary focus, two of the helicopters can seat 18 passengers and could also be used to remove people from harm's way.

The Coulson Aviation team, pictured here on Sept. 1 in Mexico, is expected to arrive in Bolivia Thursday to help with wildfire efforts. (Facebook/Coulson Aviation)

Coulson said the company, probably best-known for operating the Martin Mars water bombers, is "one of the go-to companies out there in the world of aviation" and was already helping Bolivia's defence ministry with its own fleet of aircraft before the catastrophic blazes began this year.

"We have been down there multiple times over the last 36 months working on a suppressant system for their fleet," said Coulson. "We know them and they know us."

According to Coulson, two of the three helicopters were passing through Puerto Rico Tuesday on their way to Bolivia. The third aircraft is being airlifted to the Amazon.

Soldiers, firemen and volunteers combat forest fires in the surroundings of Robore in eastern Bolivia, on Aug. 25, 2019. (Aizar Raldes/AFP/Getty Images)

Coulson said he plans to meet the helicopters and his crew in Santa Cruz on Thursday.

Anyone interested in following the progress of the team can look for daily video postings on the company's Facebook page.

With files from On The Island

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