Hawaii Mars’ firefighting days done
After a 54-year career of fighting forest fires across North America, the Hawaii Mars bomber sat on the shore of Sproat Lake this summer due to the province not renewing the aircraft’s contract.
In a newsletter released last week by the bomber’s owner, Coulson Air Tankers, CEO Wayne Coulson reflected on the Mars aircraft’s history, conceding that the plane’s firefighting days are over. The aircraft has helped douse forest fires in British Columbia, Alberta, California and Mexico.
“I can say that the Mars taught us a lot about the firefighting business, and now the superior gentle giant of the industry is looking toward retirement,” wrote Coulson.
With a 27,200-litre dump capacity, the Mars bomber has attained iconic status in Western Canada, particularly in the Alberni Valley, where the aircraft is stationed. As wildfires rage across B.C. this summer, a petition launched in Port Alberni garnered over 19,000 names asking that the province renew the Mars bomber’s contract for another five years.
In July, Port Alberni resident Chris Alemany delivered the petition to Premier Christy Clark’s constituency office in west Kelowna.
“While I don’t think for a minute that anyone believed the government would change its mind, it did, however, provide some closure to the firefighting icon and the many wonderful men and women who served in the Mars program over the decades,” Coulson said.
Despite the public pressure, the provincial government has not backed down from its decision to leave the Mars bomber out the firefighting fleet.
A statement released by the government as the petition was growing said the Mars bomber was outdated and cumbersome for the current forest fire demands in B.C.
Instead of using the massive air tanker this year, four smaller Fire Boss aircraft were contracted from Conair of Abbotsford, which the province said can access at least 10 times more bodies of water in B.C. than the Hawaii Mars because of their superior manoeuverability.
The province has relied on the Fire Bosses heavily this summer, sending the four planes to blazes in the Northwest Territories early in the season before fires escalated in B.C. On Thursday night one of these Conair planes crashed while attending to the Jorgensen Creek fire in the Caribou region. A fatality was not reported from the incident.
The Mars bomber was originally designed by the U.S. Navy for air transport service nearly 70 years ago, but was converted to a water bomber in 1959 when acquired by B.C.’s MacMillan Bloedel. Coulson Air Tankers purchased the Hawaii Mars and its twin the Phillipine Mars in 2007.
Local interest to see the Mars bombers fly once more has been growing among online forums, and Coulson expects the public will get their chance this fall when the Phillipine is prepared for a final flight across the Rocky Mountains for its new home at an aviation museum in Pensacola, Florida.
Wayne Coulson said the public will likely get a last chance to see the Phillipine Mars fly this fall.