Martin Mars a pricey symbol of hope against wildfires

Armchair Mayor
By Mel Rothenburger
July 14, 2017 - 5:00am

Where’s the Martin Mars?

That’s a question that’s been all over social media during the past week since the big outbreak of wildfires that resulted in a provincial state of emergency being declared.

In many people’s minds the huge Martin Mars — which can carry more than 27,000 litres of water — is a savior come wildfire season. Lives are at stake, after all.

The Mars is a majestic, impressive machine, and people love it. So pretty much every day, somebody asks why it isn’t being used, and the media scramble to get an answer.

Among the reasons I’ve heard as to why the Mars isn’t fighting fires:

  • It has a big hole in its hull and isn’t airworthy.
  • It’s undergoing maintenance and won’t be ready to fly until next month.
  • The provincial government simply hasn’t offered Coulson’s Flying Tankers — which owns the Mars — a contract to use it.
  • There aren’t enough lakes big enough for the Mars to land.
  • Smaller aircraft are more effective at fighting fires because they’re more “nimble.”
  • The payload of the Mars is so big that whenever it makes a drop, firefighters on the ground must stop what they’re doing and take cover.
  • It’s very expensive. In 2015, the last time the Mars was used for wildfires, it cost $750,000 to fight four fires. It costs $6,000 an hour to fly.

Near as I can tell, all of the above are true but, never mind, say the big plane’s admirers — encourage owner Wayne Coulson to get it in the air ASAP, and to hell with the cost.

They’re convinced that if only the Mars was in the fight, the fires could be tamed. It’s interesting that so many people pin their hopes and prayers on one big machine. There are even demands that John Horgan hire the Mars as soon as he’s installed as premier next week.

But the Mars is 70 years old and its day is done. At best, if it was to be put into action, it would be an expensive symbol of reassurance, sort of like the Royal Family.

But come to think of it, maybe we could all use a little reassurance. And wouldn’t it be a grand thing to see that splendid old behemoth flying overhead again on its way to save the day?

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