Canada — THE province showed off two of its shiny new water bombers on Wednesday, but if recent fire events continue, they won’t stay shiny much longer.
Manitoba has seen more than 60 forest fires and dozens of grass fires this spring already. One of the biggest was last weekend near Selkirk, where the province dispatched two water bombers to douse the flames at a metal salvage yard.
The aircraft shown off by Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Steve Ashton and Conservation and Water Stewardship Minister Gord Mackintosh are two of four to be purchased by the province to beef up its firefighting resources, under a deal with Bombardier worth $126 million.
“This is a huge, huge investment,” Ashton said. “Things like forest fires, grass fires are a fact of life, and boy oh boy, are these planes going to make a difference.”
Three of the aircraft have been delivered to the province, with the last one to arrive this fall. With the new planes, Manitoba will have six water bombers.
“These water bombers have doubled, basically doubled, our firefighting capacity,” Mackintosh said. “This really enhances the arsenal.”
Graham MacIver, who has been a water bomber pilot for 25 years, said the new planes are easier on the arms when flying as the old-style aircraft had to be wrestled manually with each turn.
“It was like driving around an old Ford truck without power steering,” he said. “These new ones (have) hydraulically boosted flight controls, so it’s basically flying on thumb and finger. It reduces the pilot workload by quite a bit.
“You can go out on a four-hour mission on these new airplanes and come back and you’re not feeling totally exhausted, whereas on the old airplane, you knew you had a pretty good workout.”
Mackintosh said despite recent rain and cooler temperatures, officials predict things will flare up again soon.
Provincial fire manager Gary Friesen said conditions are still dry in central and eastern Manitoba. About 6,000 hectares have burned so far this year.
“We’re counting on timely rains just to help out with the situation,” Friesen said, adding the big concern now is with eastern Manitoba and its risk of going up in flames because of lightning strikes.
Last year, 315 forest fires burned a total of 126,800 hectares across Manitoba, compared with the 16-year average of 492 fires and 183,059 hectares of land burned.
About half of the wildfires in Manitoba each year are caused by humans.
Open fires are prohibited from April 1 to Nov. 15, except with a burning permit or in approved firepits such as campfire grates in provincial campsites. Due to dry conditions, many rural municipalities in southern Manitoba already have burning bans in place.
Ken Gigliotti / Winnipeg Free Press Ground crew members polish a new CL-415 water bomber. The new aircraft are faster and more efficient than older planes.
THE new water bombers fly faster, carry more water, complete more drops per hour and will use less fuel and engine oil per mission.
New CL-415 water bomber (4)
Speed: 331 km/h
Water capacity: 6,140 litres
Water drops per hour: 20
Number of drops during a normal four-hour mission: 80
Old CL-215 water bomber (2)
Speed: 258 km/h
Water capacity: 5,346 litres
Water drops per hour: 12
Number of drops a during normal four-hour mission: 48