A New Firefighting Tool? A Canadian Company Joins the Battle to Fight Wildfires in California. President Bush Takes a Peek at the Giant of the Sky

British Columbia resident Wayne Coulson says he has the tool that will save hundreds of homes threatened by California fires annually. It is called the Martin Mars water bomber.

Owned by the Canadian company, Coulson Flying Tankers, the 162,000-pound Martin Mars can drop 7,200 gallons of water and fire-dousing gel compared to 1,620 gallons for the “Super Scoopers.” It spreads its load over 3.5 acres and can drop as low as 150 feet.

It is one of the world’s largest scooping water bombers.

President George Bush and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger fly over the mighty Martin Mars in Shasta Lake

“Of the 25 bids on the Martin Mars we were the only ones who were going to operate them,” says Coulson who bought two of the vintage aircraft last year to help fight fires in British Columbia. “The rest of the bidders were going to put the Martin Mars into museums around the world.”

One of the water bombers - the Hawaii Mars - is currently on contract with the U.S. government to fight the treacherous wildfires burning in Northern California that were sparked by a huge lightning storm on June 21. The bomber has dropped water and gel on the Big Sur Fire, Motion Fire and the Basin Complex Fire. In its first five days battling the blazes, the Hawaii Mars dropped 300,000 gallons of gel and 25 gallons of water on the Motion and Lime fires near Shasta Lake, says Coulson.

So far, California has had 2,010 separate wildfires that have destroyed nearly 900,000 acres, making it the single largest fire event ever recorded in California. In addition to the Hawaii Mars, four other B.C. tankers and firefighters are on contract to the U.S. government to help fight the wildfires.

President George Bush flew over Lake Shasta near Redding yesterday to take a peek at the Hawaii Mars as part of a tour through the 2.1 million-acre Shasta-Trinity National Forest on his way to a private fundraiser in Napa. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger joined Bush on the aerial tour of the burn areas. Later, Bush offered federal help to the 25,000 firefighters who are battling the blazes.

“We are really down here on proof of concept,” says Coulson. “How cost effective we are compared to other tankers. They have never seen a tanker this large as an initial attack.”

The Martin Mars has a long history in California. According to Coulson, it is the only aircraft that served during WW II that the U.S. government doesn’t have in a museum. It was built in 1946 as a long-range bomber and was converted in 1959 to carry supplies and soldiers from San Francisco to Hawaii. The air bomber has a wingspan that is larger than a Boeing 747 aircraft. It takes two pilots and two engineers to fly the 120-foot long water bomber.

“The plane comes out of the sky like something out of a Humphrey Bogart movie,” says Tony Morris of the Wildfire Research Network.

The water bomber is versatile. The Government of British Columbia approved the Canadian company in May to drop gel on homes after a safety test was performed on eight structures. The gel is already used by firefighters on the ground but not by aircraft on homes. Coulson says his aircraft can cover more ground, quickly and cost effectively. The air bomber is capable of flying as low as 150 feet and spreading gel on three homes at a time, he says. The gel lasts four or five hours, and can be re-hydrated 10 hours later.

Coulson hopes to contract with the U.S. Forest Service during California’s wildfire season to help protect the thousands of homes built in wildfire prone communities.

“We believe we will be the initial attack aircraft that will save people's homes,” he says.


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