By Nigel Maxwell
A new provincial program designed to improve Saskatchewan’s wildfire response is set to get off the ground later this summer.
The Single Engine Aircraft Tanker program (SEAT), managed through the Ministry of Government Relations, facilitates the use of commercial crop dusting planes to assist ground crews fighting fires.
Accumark Airpsray, operating mainly out of the Nipawin airport, is among those who have signed up.
Owner Travis Karle has been working with local MLA Fred Bradshaw for the past few years to get this program in place.
“There are agriculture operators, like myself, who have one or two or multiple turbine aircraft, and they are 500 gallon machines and that’s what they are fighting fires with all over the world,” he said.
The Ministry of Environment’s aircraft will still be used to fight fires in Northern Saskatchewan, but SEAT will be used in central and southern Saskatchewan. The cost of the SEAT resources will fall on the requesting organization. Karle said the crop dusters are very efficient and fast.
“Our turn-around is so quick. I’m guessing within a 60-minute period we could put probably put four to six drops on a fire within 30 miles,” he said.
About 26 pilots from the Saskatchewan Aerial Applicators Association have been trained so far under the SEAT program.The 2015 wildfire season saw over 200 fires burning across British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan. Karle said the response that year could have been much better had this program been in place.
“We are sitting here with three machines on the ground, ready to go and we could hit that thing fast and get a handle on it really quick rather than have it get out of control and costing millions of dollars,” he said.
Karle said in the coming weeks he will be meeting with local fire departments to discuss how pilots can be involved and what the costs would be. He added toward the end of this month, once seeding is done, the pilots will do some practice dumps to demonstrate how well the aircraft work.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Government Relations told farmnewsNOW protocols to dispatch SEAT aircraft are still being finalized. To date, no SEAT aircraft have been dispatched to help with a wildland fire.