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Mars out, skimmers in

One of the lasting images from the 2003 Okanagan Mountain Park fire was the sight of the majestic Martin Mars water bomber.

It would swoop down onto Okanagan Lake, scoop up more than 27,000 litres of water, and return to work.

The Mars, much to the dismay of some, was not used on the Smith Creek fire and won't be used in any other fires this year or any other year.

In fact, a petition titled "Christy Clark: Contract the Martin Mars Waterbombers for five more year to protect BC," will be delivered to the premier's West Kelowna constituency office Thursday.

The petition, started a week ago, has more than 17,500 signatures.

"British Columbia is under severe attack from wildfires this season and West Kelowna, the scene of recent mass evacuations due to the terrible Smith Creek fire, has suffered most of all," says Chris Alemany, creator of the petition.

"If anyone should care about bringing back BC's most effective water bomber it should be the MLA for Westside-Kelowna and Premier of British Columbia."

The government did not renew the company's contract to provide the service in 2014.

In fact, while under contract from 2007 through 2013, the Mars, based out of Port Alberni and owned by
Wayne Coulson, went unused in both 2012 and 2013.

While under contract with the province it worked on just 17 fires.

"We have four amphibious skimmers, they are called Fire Bosses," says provincial wildfire management branch spokesperson, Navi Saini.

"It's a more modern plane and it's more versatile in that it can drop both retardant and water. It's more cost effective and more efficient to have these on board.

Saini says the Martin Mars was more limited in the types of fires it could fight and the bodies of water in which it could access.

"The new skimmers can take water from about 1,700 lakes where as the Martin Mars could only scoop water from 113.

And, because the new skimmers are four aircraft and not one we can break that group up. They can respond to four different fires or two can tackle two each."

She says it was a matter of modernizing the aircraft the province uses.

Click here to view the online petition.

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