Crew members from Coulson Aviation prepare two Sikorsky S-61 helicopters at an airfield in Los Leones, Chihuahua, Mexico for an overseas flight to Bolivia, where they will be tasked to fight forest fires in the Amazon rainforests. PHOTO COURTESY COULSON AVIATION

B.C. aviation company sends helicopters to fight fires in Amazon

Three helicopters from Coulson Aviation are enroute to Bolivia under temporary contract

Two aircraft from a Canadian aviation company are enroute to Bolivia to help fight forest fires that have devastated the Amazon rainforest this summer.

Coulson Aviation, a global aviation company based in Port Alberni, B.C. signed an agreement last week with the Bolivian government to send helicopters to help with firefighting in the Amazon. Coulson has sent two Sikorsky S-61 helicopters with the promise of a third aircraft to Santa Cruz, Bolivia in South America, where an estimated 165,000 fires are burning.

They are the first Canadian company to send aircraft to help fight the Amazon fires.

READ: G7 leaders reach deal to offer help to fight wildfires in Amazon rainforest

“We are honoured that the Bolivian government has chosen to work with Coulson Aviation in order to help offer support during their time of crisis,” Coulson Aviation’s president and CEO, Wayne Coulson, said in a statement.

One helicopter was in Yakima, Wash. and the other was in Elko, Nevada; they were both flown to San Bernardino, Calif., to load up and left Sunday, Sept. 1 for the first leg of their trip. They have made stops in Mexico and Costa Rica and were in Panama City by Tuesday, Sept. 3. Foster Coulson expects the aircraft to arrive in Santa Cruz by Thursday, where he will greet them.

The company has also rented an Antonov transport aircraft to ferry one of their CH-47 Chinook helitankers to Bolivia, also arriving on Thursday.

READ: Canada offers $15M, water bombers on top of G7 help to fight Amazon wildfires

At 5.5 million square kilometres, the Amazon rainforest covers an area more than five times the size of Ontario. About two-thirds of it lies in Brazil but it extends into several neighbouring countries, including Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia.

The region is known as the “lungs of the planet” because it produces one-fifth of Earth’s oxygen supply. It also works as a significant carbon sink, absorbing vast amounts of carbon dioxide every year.

Foster Coulson said he has been in Bolivia for the past three years developing opportunities for Coulson Aviation, so it made sense for their company to offer its aerial firefighting services. They have a 15-day contract with the Bolivian government with possible extensions as necessary.

“We have the three helicopters and hopefully that will give them further support they require,” he said. “The federal Government of Canada has really stepped up to support us and make this happen.”

The permits, arrangements for fuel stops and logistics of moving three aircraft from three different locations to South America has been challenging, he added. Coulson will have 18 crew members including Foster stationed in Bolivia.

Coulsons’ S-61s have been in use elsewhere around the world; the first aircraft they sent overseas was an S-61 Sikorsky to Australia, where Coulson aircraft have been used for years to help fight fires in Victoria State and elsewhere in that country. Australia has also put the first of Coulsons’ 737 Fireliners into operation.

The S-61s will head to Australia once they are no longer needed in Bolivia, Coulson said.

Coulson Aviation has converted two 737s into Fireliners capable of dropping either water or fire suppression material, as well as transporting crew. A third Fireliner is undergoing a conversion at the Coulson hangar at the Alberni Valley Regional Airport.

Despite their aircraft being in demand around the world, Coulson Aviation’s fleet of firefighting aircraft does not have a Canadian contract. “We do business everywhere else in the world and we still haven’t managed to support the B.C. Fire Service,” Coulson said.

“We hope one of these days we’ll get to support B.C. We would really love to continue to support our province but at the end of the day we have to go where we’re wanted. If that’s 5,000 nautical miles away in Bolivia, then that’s where we have to go.”

— With files from Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

One of Coulson Aviation’s Sikorsky S-61 helicopters flies enroute to Costa Rica, one of its stops on the way to Bolivia to fight forest fires in the Amazon. PHOTO COURTESY COULSON AVIATION

Just Posted

Vernon basketball product’s college career ends in loss

Michael Rouault scores 23 points for TRU but team falls; sister’s squad also eliminated

Vernon Vipers entertain Merritt in Monday afternoon tilt

Vipers sit in fourth place in BCHL Interior Division, three points behind Wenatchee

Vernon Winter Carnival 60s theme a hit with residents

Milestone 60th anniversary Carnival wrapped up Sunday

North Okanagan delegates off to BC Winter Games

Athletes, coaches and officials making the long trek north

Top senior curlers converge on Vernon

Vernon Curling Club hosts B.C. Senior Men’s and Women’s finals, starting Tuesday.

Kelowna’s Family YMCA opens doors on Family Day

The entire day was free for the community

B.C. budget expected to stay the course as economic growth moderates

Finance minister said ICBC costs have affected budget

Canadian standards for coronavirus protection to be reviewed, health agency says

The protocols set out how health workers should protect themselves and their patients

Kelowna RCMP arrest alleged impaired driver

The driver is facing potential charges after power pole collision

South Okanagan mountain bore racist name for a half century

Nkawala Mountain was initially named in connection with the deaths of two black men.

Monday marks one-year anniversary of man missing from Langley

42-year-old B.C. man, Searl Smith, was last seen leaving Langley Memorial Hospital on Feb. 17, 2019

BC Ferries sailings filling up Family Day Monday

More than 20 sailings added between Swartz Bay and Tsawwassen for long weekend

UBCO announces new top boss for Okanagan campus

Lesley Cormack will start in the position this summer

Nine West Kelowna athletes to go to B.C. Winter Games

The athletes will compete in biathlon and cross country ski

Most Read