A Conair airtanker helps battle a wildifire south of Penticton last week. The Abbosford-based company currently has 26 of its planes involved in the wildfire situation across B.C. (Mark Brett/Black Press)

Conair Group provides 26 planes for wildfire situation

Abbotsford company under contract with provincial government

An Abbotsford company is playing a big role in the current wildfire situation in B.C.

The Conair Group, based at Abbotsford Airport, currently has 26 of its aircraft battling fires that are raging in places such as Cache Creek, 100 Mile House, Williams Lake and Princeton.

Jeff Berry, director of business development, said the planes include 20 airtankers and six bird-dog aircraft that lead them. The bird-dogs are each manned with a pilot and a firefighter who check for hazards and determine the most effective and safe drop locations.

Some of the tankers are amphibious (water bombers) that skim water from lakes and rivers and drop it on the fires.

Others are land-based tankers that are filled with a red chemical retardant.

The aircraft are operated by the Conair Group under contract to the BC Wildfire Service (BCWS).

Berry said three aircraft remain on site at Conair in Abbotsford in order to fly out parts needed for the deployed planes or to provide pilot relief.

He said there are currently 15 maintenance engineers and 34 pilots deployed for the Conair planes.

They come from various areas and are based with one of the six airtanker groups which are called out for service where needed by BCWS. There are two teams based in Penticton, two in Kamloops, one in Castlegar and one in Abbotsford.

Berry, who previously worked for more than three decades with the B.C. Ministry of Forests, said although he has seen some intense fire seasons in the past, he doesn’t recall one starting so early in the summer.

He said it’s impossible to predict how the season could progress, with too many factors – primarily the weather – making a difference.

Meanwhile, Coulson Group CEO Wayne Coulson said his company is waiting for word from the province on whether their firefighting apparatus – including the Hawaii Mars waterbomber – will be called into action.

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