RCAF responds to state of emergency in British Columbia

Three people organize large kit bags beside a helicopter while two people in flight suits stand in front of the aircraft.
On August 21, 2018, during Operation Lentus 18-05, members of the British Columbia Forest Service pick up their firefighting gear after being dropped off by a CH-124 Sea King at Dease Lake Airport, British Columbia. Behind them, heavy smoke is evident. PHOTO: Corporal Jeffrey Clement, CX05-2018-0390-045

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From 19 Wing Public Affairs

Numerous government agencies supported the fight on wildfires in British Columbia, including the Royal Canadian Air Force, as part of a larger contribution by the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF).

An RCAF Air Task Force (ATF) supported the fight against more than 550 wildfires in the province for several weeks from a base of operations located in the Mustang Helicopters hangar at Smithers Regional Airport. Strategically located in the northwest of the province, and once home to an RCAF base, Smithers was the ideal base to provide air support to the British Columbia Wildfire Service (BCWS) Northwest Fire Centre.

The ATF support to the BCWS was focused on major fire complexes in the north of the province, primarily in the area of Dease Lake, but the ATF was ready to react to BCWS tasks in support of the fight on large fire complexes at Grassy Plains and Fort St. James, much closer to Smithers.

The ATF, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Steve Gillis of 19 Wing Comox, British Columbia, comprised about 50 personnel from units throughout Canada, including aircrew, maintainers, support staff and a headquarters. The ATF had the ability to move firefighters, key personnel, vehicles and heavy equipment quickly on short notice.

A secondary task was to use helicopters to evacuate injured firefighters if required, particularly from areas difficult to access by vehicle, the intent being to arrive quickly on-scene, hasten access to medical care, and allow firefighters on the ground to stay in the fight. A third task was evacuation of individuals from remote areas, or people from small communities at risk.

Aircraft at the disposal of the task force were a CH-124 Sea King helicopter from 443 Maritime Helicopter Squadron at Pat Bay (Victoria); a CH-146 Griffon helicopter from 417 Combat Support Squadron at 4 Wing Cold Lake, Alberta; and a CC-130J Hercules aircraft from 436 Transport Squadron at 8 Wing Trenton, Ontario.

Strengths of the CH-124 Sea King are its ability to carry or sling heavy loads long distances, and its capability to hoist personnel from the ground. The CH-146 Griffon is very agile, and well suited to small landing areas. It is able to carry up to 10 passengers and, with a hoist designed for rescue, is well suited to extract personnel from very deep forest.

The CC-130J Hercules is legendary for its ability to fly in the worst conditions, land at austere airfields and carry heavy loads, including vehicles. Its main task was to quickly move groups of firefighters with their vehicles and equipment to where they were needed most. The CC-130J was used earlier in 2018 to assist with the evacuation of citizens from communities at risk during wildfires in Manitoba and Ontario, and it was ready to assume that same role in British Columbia.

The strength of the ATF, a group of diverse specialists from throughout Canada, was its ability to form a mutually supportive team early in the deployment with a single focus: supporting the Government of British Columbia and the BCWS.

A Canadian Army Land Task Force with soldiers from the 3rd Canadian Division (Edmonton, Alberta) was also deployed to assist the BCWS in the effort to fight and control wildfires. Their effort was focused in south-western British Columbia, primarily around Merritt.

About Operation Lentus 18-05

Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) support to fighting wildfires was tied to an announcement by the Government of British Columbia on August 12, 2018, declaring a state of emergency due to forest fires. Shortly after the announcement, the Government of British Columbia made a request for military assistance in the effort to fight more than 550 fires burning across the province.

The Government of Canada and the CAF approved the request and immediately began deploying personnel and equipment where it was required most.

Dubbed Operation Lentus 18-05, the CAF contribution to assist was a Canadian Joint Operations Command (CJOC)-directed operation, led by Joint Task Force Pacific (JTFP) at Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt, British Columbia.

Under command of JTFP, soldiers from the Edmonton-based 3rd Canadian Division deployed a Land Task Force (LTF) to concentrate their effort in southwestern British Columbia, near Merritt. An Air Task Force (ATF) was deployed to Smithers, British Columbia. Smithers remained relatively smoke-free throughout the fire season, which is particularly important for aircraft relying on good visibility.

2018 is now on record as the worst fire season in the history of British Columbia, with more than 550 fires burning across the province.

The state of emergency was rescinded on September 7, 2018.

RELATED LINKS

Royal Canadian Air Force
CH-124 Sea King
Operation Lentus
Farewell to the King! 
Sea King: Going out with style
CH-146 Griffon
Alberta wildfires
Canadian Coast Guard 
Canadian Joint Operations Command

Image gallery

  • Three people organize large kit bags beside a helicopter while two people in flight suits stand in front of the aircraft.
  • Pillars of smoke rise above hilly wooded landscape.
  • Three helicopters sit on flat ground/tarmac.
  • Three people organize large kit bags beside a helicopter while two people in flight suits stand in front of the aircraft.
  • A man in a flight suit and a man in a disruptive pattern uniform confer beside a helicopter, while a third person stands in the doorway.
  • A truck is driven out of a large aircraft past a pile of gas cans, gas-powered chainsaws, toolboxes and other gear.
  • A person hangs on a line below a helicopter overflying rough terrain.
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