Fire fighting history

As a child in Alberni I remember the Campbell River fire of 1937, when the smoke clouded out the sun as far as Victoria.

As a child in Alberni I remember the Campbell River fire of 1937, when the smoke clouded out the sun as far as Victoria. In 1942 I worked at the forestry office in Alberni as a dispatcher, answering the phone, colouring maps, greeting visitors and washing and coiling fire hoses. That year, a fire started on the south shore of Great Central Lake jumped a mile and a half to the north shore with flying embers carried by the updraft.

At that time forest companies maintained equipment to fight fires. This caused the pilot for M&B to recommend that the companies purchase the war surplus Mars, anchored in the San Francisco harbour. For the next 50 years, the planes contained all the fires on the coast and a number in the interior.

In 1965, I was residing in Vancouver when the Mars was called to attack a sawmill fire in downtown New Westminster. This allowed the firemen to enter and extinguish the blaze. In 1967, the contractor working for B.C. Hydro started a fire near Taylor River. He called forestry, but by the time they arrived the fire was out of control and there was too much smoke for the planes to fly. Next came a fire started by sparks from a train at Cameron Lake. The Mars was able to put that out in spite of the steep terrain.

In 1968, a fire started on the CPR trail to Mt. Arrowsmith. The grad class who were having their banquet at French Creek watched the Mars picking up water. After the event was finished, a number of us went to where we could observe the drops. The smoke was going straight up for about 100 feet then being blown horizontally by the strong wind. The fire was soon cooled to where the ground crew could go in and finish the job. Next came the fire at Sechelt. Many people went to Rathrevor Beach to watch the two Mars dropping 6,000 gallons every four minutes. In the 1980s there were several fires brought under control at Kelowna and Salmon Arm.

For 50 years Vancouver Island and the coastal area never had a fire get out of control. Then this government drew up qualifications to exclude the Mars. That year a fire burned out of control above Nimpkish Lake, one of the longest lakes on Vancouver Island, where there are stands of the finest timber on the Island.

Maybe readers can understand how 20,000 people signed a petition to have the government hire the Mars when they saw Dog Mountain being burned, seeing the rapid spread while the two flying tankers making a drop every hour after their flight to Abbotsford to reload.

Arthur N. SkipseyQualicum Beach

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