Wildfires in the southeast may see a quicker response from the air by a local aerial application company, thanks to a provincial government initiative to contract 6 such operators to provide assistance this fire season.
Farr Air's headquarters is in Weyburn, and they have bases in Estevan, Carlyle, and other communities around the region. While a normal day consists of skimming several feet above the crops, Owner Jeff Farr is among the 26 pilots so far trained to do the same over an inferno.
"We have five aircraft, and they are all capable of assisting in that. Most of our pilots have taken the training, some of them still have to do that, but we've got enough on staff here that we can assist for the 2018 season."
"I think it's a great opportunity to help the fire departments in saving people and property from more damage. I'm just glad to be able to assist in it. We're glad to be a part of the communities and able to offer that support service," he said.
Farr Air's fleet consists of 3 turbine Thrush 510P's each capable of carrying 500 gallons, a radial Thrush S-R2 holding 350 gallons, and a Weatherly 620B that holds 250 gallons.
"We will only be dropping water and foam, we're not certified to drop retardant. That's what they're usually using in British Columbia or areas where they've got that type of fires. Our aircraft are pretty limited to just using water and foam for what we can drop here," Farr explained.
He noted that the maneuvers in the air will be similar to those used in aerial application, but coordination with everyone else battling the blaze will be important, which was stressed in the training he received at the beginning of February in Prince Albert.
"The biggest thing is the communications with the emergency services crews on the ground to make sure that we're on the same wavelength and we both understand where we're supposed to be putting the water when we drop it. It's not bad, once you go through it and you learn the terminology. They were great, they put on a great seminar, and there's going to be recurrent training going on with them as time goes on. We'll get it more fine tuned, and it should run pretty smooth."
One of the major areas of appeal for the smaller aircraft doing the job is the faster response time and quicker access to the scene.
"There was a grass fire three miles from the airport the other day, and if we were called out, we could have been on that in half an hour and dropped water on it. Whereas, with those big planes up north, it'd take half the day to get them down here."
While crop duster pilots often have the convenience and skill set to land on a grid road to fill the tank, Farr's units will still use actual runways.
"The nice thing is that we can work off of smaller airports. There's some grass runways around that you can't put the big aircraft on, and we've got some grass strips that we work Ag off of here too that we could utilize for these types of operations."
"We're looking forward to being able to be part of this program and see it grow as time goes on," he concluded.