Atleo Air crew Antony Dickinson, front, and Michael Spicer inspect the chopper that was flown to put out a brush fire. (Nora O’Malley / Westerly News)

Atleo Air pilot douses brush fire near Tofino

“The thought of losing that side of the valley to a fire was the motivation for Jason and for me.”

The Atleo River Air Service crew extinguished a small brush fire in Clayoquot’s Bulson River Valley on the evening of June 26.

Helicopter pilot Antony Dickinson said he performed more than a dozen ‘Bambi bucket’ water drops over the hot spot, which was lit up from a lightning strike.

“I thought it would be out in one or two buckets, but it was about 12 or 13 buckets later that it actually took. It was really just one big cedar that was on fire,” said Dickinson.

A ‘Bambi bucket’ is a tank that is attached to the helicopter by a cable and can hold approximately 850 pounds of water.

“The weird part was that it was on fire even on the ground,” Dickinson recounted. “So, the lightning had struck it and then the whole thing was fire, like the grass around it. It took a while to get water to all those areas.”

Dickinson said it took him about eight minutes, round trip, to fill and dump the Bambi bucket and the entire operation took an estimated one hour and twenty minutes.

The Tofino-based pilot has had bucket training, but he said this was his first time putting those skills into action.

“It was fun, but kind of scary,” said Dickinson, who has been flying for Atleo for the past three years.

Misty Lawson, office manager at Atleo Air, said they notified BC Wildfire Service after one of their pilots spotted smoke coming from the Bulson River area on a scenic flight tour.

“[BC Wildfire] said they would try to send a ground crew,” said Lawson. “I’ve lived here my whole life, and I couldn’t hike to that place. I was nervous things would get out of hand. We couldn’t just sit and watch it burn. It’s such a time sensitive thing.”

Jason Bertin, owner of Atleo Air, was having dinner with friends when he got wind of the bush fire.

“Jay immediately left the table and got in his boat to go help. He went up with another pilot in one of his seaplanes to try and put the fire out before it got out of control,” Nikki Holekamp told the Westerly News.

“Jay did this on his own accord, with his personal money for gas and no chance of reimbursement, he just knew it had to be done; he could not stand by and risk our rainforest go up in smoke while he had the means to help,” she said.

Dickinson re-iterated.

“A spot fire like that can turn into a huge fire. The thought of losing that side of the valley to a fire was the motivation for Jason and for me,” he said, adding that he was relieved to wake up to rain the next morning.

“It rained hard for a day and a half, so that was a really good thing. I always thought we were bullet proof for forest fires, at least like right up against the coastline, because there is not a lot of evidence of it. I guess we are not exactly fire proof out here,” said Dickinson.

Anyone that sees evidence of a wildfire or irresponsible behaviour that could start a wildfire, is encouraged to call 1 (800) 663-5555 or dial *5555 from a cellphone as soon as possible.

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RELATED: BC Wildfire Centre’s interactive map

READ: Firefighters battling 4 new wildfires in northwest B.C. (Jul. 2, 2019)

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