Capabilities for fire suppression heightened by MNR fleet upgrade

Waterbombers are the air detail of the Ministry of Natural Resources during a fire flap and come summer, they’ll be bigger, faster, and more efficient at doing their job across the province.
That’s because the MNR’s existing tanker fleet of nine CL-215 waterbombers is undergoing replacement by CL-415s.
In a news release issued earlier this month by Natural Resources minister John Snobelen, the CL-415 was deemed the most advanced waterbomber in the world, equipped with turbine engines and a higher “bombing” capacity than its predecessor.
The CL-215s, termed an aging fleet in the news release, are equipped with piston engines designed in the 1930s. That type of engine hasn’t been produced since the 1950s, making spare parts and servicing increasingly difficult.
“The CL-415s are definitely more efficient and their suppression capabilities can put more water quicker on a fire,” Harrold Boven, senior fire officer with the local MNR office, said Monday.
“And that makes suppression strategies more effective for the ground [fire] crews,” he noted.
“[The CL-415] maneuvers differently, has more speed, and bomb load,” added Bob Thomas, provincial information officer with the MNR’s aviation, flood, and fire management office in Sault Ste. Marie.
“They carry 1,500 pounds more water and they require a lot less maintenance,” he said.
And though Thomas confirmed the MNR would have five of the new aircraft ready to help respond to forest fires by the end of April, that didn’t mean the CL-215 would be out of the picture just yet.
The remaining four CL-415s aren’t due to be delivered from the manufacturer, Bombardier Aerospace of Montreal, until the end of the year.
In the meantime, the ministry is planning to keep enough CL-215s maintained so the available waterbomber count stays at nine this summer.
“We will have both on stream for this fire season [and] maintain our CL-215 fleet to fill out the [complement],” he stressed.
Two CL-415s have sitting at the base in Sault Ste. Marie, with a third scheduled to arrive by the end of this week.
Thomas said pilots and engineers of the CL-215s have begun immediate training to familiarize themselves with the differences between the older model and the new one.
“It takes pilots and engineers three to four weeks to complete training,” he added, noting flight and engineer crews stationed at the MNR’s primary base in Dryden hadn’t fully completed the training period yet.
Besides their increased reliability in fire suppression techniques, Thomas said the CL-415s would provide their flying crews with a welcome upgrade in the cockpit.
“The pilots will like the air conditioning, especially on a hot, hot day when they’re sitting on a black tarmac or when they’re flying [low] through the [heat] of a fire,” he noted.
Thomas also stressed the new waterbombers won’t necessarily be stationed at the Sault.
“They have no home base except during the winter months,” he explained. “In a season where there is normal fire activity, seven [waterbombers] are in the area of the West Fire Region and only a couple are in the East Fire Region.
“They can be positioned wherever the Provincial Response Centre [sees] necessary at any given time. They are very mobile,” he added.
The cost of the nine new aircraft is $225 million, with $40 million of that offset by the sale back to Bombardier of the old CL-215s.
That outgoing fleet, which still has an outstanding record of fire support service, eventually will be sold to buyers outside the country, Thomas proposed.
“[Bombardier] will be selling them to other countries. Many are looking to buy Ontario’s [fleet] because of their excellent maintenance record,” he remarked.
At present, CL-415s are in operation in Quebec, France, Croatia, and Italy.