Helicopters fighting Vancouver Island fires grounded by smoke early Wednesday

Helicopters fighting Vancouver Island fires grounded by smoke early Wednesday
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WATCH: The thick layer of smoke that has blanketed Vancouver Island for days has grounded helicopters trying to fight dozens of wildfires on the northern island. 

A layer of smoke choked most of Vancouver Island again Wednesday and in Campbell River, the low visibility kept helicopters on the ground instead of in the air fighting the dozens of wildfires still burning on the north island.

“Sometimes just getting to a location isn’t enough,” explained pilot Guido Lepore. “You also need to get to a location and then be able to work a location and that becomes a little more problematic.”

In good visibility and with a nearby source of water, pilots can often make new drops on a fire every few minutes but when it’s smoky, pilots just have to wait it out.

“If you want to move people around to a fire or bucket a fire then you have to do it efficiently, you can’t be creeping around slowly. You’re also going up and down fair ways in elevation. It’s not enough just to get somewhere on a low-level route; once you get there you have to be able to go up the mountain, find your water, that kind of thing.” said Lepore.

Ground crews did battle some fires on Wednesday where they could get in by trucks.

Low visibility also prevented fallers from taking down trees at the fires.

“I know that if the smoke is really thick and the fallers can not see to the top of the tree, they’re not going to be dropping trees,” said Fire Information Officer Lynne Wheeler.

Transport Canada requires a mile visibility for helicopters and by early Wednesday afternoon, the skies had cleared enough to allow 12 helicopters to get airborne.

They’ve been going almost non-stop on the north island fires including work done by an air crane on the Zeballos fire Tuesday.

“Well the Erickson Air-Crane yesterday actually dropped 200,000 gallons of water on three fires and one of those was Zeballos so they’re keeping really busy,” said Wheeler.

And a helicopter was back at that fire Wednesday afternoon as conditions cleared.

Dean StoltzDean Stoltz

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