Sky Helicopters, based at the Pitt Meadows Regional Airport, has been on the front lines of the wildfire fight in B.C.
The provincial government has recently declared a state of emergency due to the unprecedented number of forest fires burning out of control in B.C.
Sky Helicopters chief pilot Bryce Westlund spent recently two and a half weeks flying out of Smithers, primarily working on fires in the Burns Lake area.
He said there are hundreds of aircraft in the Interior, and he met pilots from Ontario, the Northwest Territories, Alberta and across Canada helping with the emergency.
“People are coming from all over to help with the fires,” he said.
Many of the aircraft are heavy helicopters, dropping buckets or water or fire retardant on the fires, or transporting crews and equipment.
Westlund’s key job was administrative work, flying the fire bosses over forest fires so they could strategize on how best to attack the blazes.
“They make their game plan from the air,” he said.
Westlund is a pilot with 10 years experience, and has seen forest fires from the air before, but was taken aback by the sheer size of the fires in the Interior. He was flying with fire crews from North Vancouver who have firefighting experience, but said even they were “blown away by the sheer magnitude of it.”
One of the largest is a 40,000 hectare fire south of Burns Lake, at Binta Lake. The largest is at Telegraph Creek, where three smaller fires have merged into a 120,000 hectare fire.
Westlund also brought equipment to crews in areas with no access except by air. He said there is a huge demand for resources, and Sky may be asked to bring a second aircraft north next week.
According to the BC Wildfire Service there have been 1,965 fires as of Thursday, and 759,000 hectares have burned, and 429,000 Ha were in the northwest region.
Last year 1.2 million hectares burned, in the worst fire year on record.
For more information see www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/safety/wildfire-status
The closest fire to Maple Ridge is the Mt. Hicks fire just 10 km north of Agassiz.
”The work these pilots do is extremely difficult and challenging yet it’s very gratifying for them to be taking part in such a monumental effort being mounted by all the forest fire crews,” said a posting on the Sky Helicopters Facebook page.
“We are extremely proud of our entire team for their hard work and commitment to the safety of the people and infrastructure of this province.”