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What's with the RED STUFF

Updated: Dec 29, 2021

Early in B.C’s history of aerial application was the use of converted wartime Canso flying boats as water bombers. Pictured is a painting of “Flying Fireman’s” Canso No. 7 painted by Bruce Guest

by Jack Schofield

There is a lot of evidence these days that the number and intensity of forest fires is going to be a major component of the fight against the effects of climate change. Considering that the means we now use to battle these fires is to send out a small contingent of brave guys armed with shovels it might be expected of the Forest Service to come up with a better plan.

In an interview with Dan McIvor many years ago this visionary aerial fire fighter who brought us first, paper bag water bombs, then the Martin Mars water bomber, told me he thought the Forest Service executive should stay home and let decisions be made by those on the ground (or, in the air). McIvor’s complaint then was that the executives were too concerned with the cost and would not call out the Mars water bombers because they cost so much to do the job. He was particularly critical about “Red Stuff.”

“If red stuff prevents the fire from spreading why are the fires spreading?” asked McIvor while acknowledging that red stuff kept a lot of airplanes and helicopters busy so was good for the industry if not for the spread of the fires. “I could never get a scientific answer to that question,” he added.

If you will just allow me to make one more Dan McIvor quote from that interview, here is what he added to his observations: “On one occasion, they called the Mars out immediately that a fire was reported. It was just a little handkerchief fire of about ten acres—we put it out and went home.”

In the course of this magazine’s earlier reporting, Canadian Aviator has done many stories on British Columbia’s history of aerial application as a means of fighting forest fires. The aircraft types used over the years range from the lowly Beavers, Stearmans, Grumman Avengers, Cansos, Martin Mars and now the up-to-date fleet of Boeing 737 Fireliners and Hercules C-130s operated by Coulson Aviation stands at the ready in addition to the Conair fleet and some others for what is deemed to be a fight for the very life of this planet.

If early detection is the answer perhaps we will see decisions made to station many CL-215s or the likes to actually patrol those forested areas where history tells us fires will break out. These aircraft could control McIvor’s “handkerchief” fires until a big guy can get there to put it out and then go home”

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