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Bringing back the Mars?

Neither the iconic Martin Mars water bomber, nor those who support her, are prepared to fade quietly into the sunset.

Chris Alemany drove from Port Alberni to Premier Christy Clark's constituency office in West Kelowna Thursday to hand over a petition with more than 18,000 signatures.

He was joined by more than half a dozen people also hoping to save the Martin Mars.

The water bomber had been under contract by the province to fight forest fires from 2007 through last year but was not deployed the last two fire seasons.

It was not contracted for 2014 as the province went instead with four "Fire Boss" amphibious airtankers.

The petition asks the province to reinstate the water bomber by providing a five year contract.

"This asset and its sister plane has served this province for decades with distinction, safety and effectiveness and could do so for many years to come," says Alemany as he presented the petition to the premier's constituency assistant, Cheryl Doll.

"It deserves and has earned its place in our arsenal of fire fighting tools and we need it now more than ever. I and the 18,000 citizens who signed this petition hope the province will reconsider its decision and give the Mars a contract for the next five years."

While touring the Smith Creek fire last week, Clark indicated the province had already surpassed its 2014 wildfire budget but added the province would not stop spending.

"If that is true I would simply ask you why you would stop using the Mars when the communities and people of British Columbia through the UBCM last year...and this petition of 18,300 and some....are pleading you to protect their homes and their communities directly by using the Mars to its fullest potential."

The province has stated the Martin Mars is not as efficient or cost effective as the new "Fire Boss."

It states during the 2003 Okanagan Mountain Park Fire, the Martin Mars dropped 690,000 litres of water over 28 hours at a cost of .63¢ per litre while during the Smith Creek fire the "Fire Boss" group dropped 586,000 litres over 11.3 hours at a cost of .19¢ a litre.

The province further says the new aircraft can gather water from more than 1,700 lakes in the province compared with about 113 for the Mars.

Phil Goldie made the trip from Oliver to watch the handing over of the petition.

Goldie, a former firefighter, says he has watched the Martin Mars first hand.

"It's a good machine. It really worked well when we had a fire," says Goldie.

"We had a couple of them in Langford and we used the Martin Mars there and it worked out quite well."

Goldie says he saw the new planes for the first time this past weekend.

"I don't know how they worked up here. I guess they worked alright but I don't know if they were as good as the Martin Mars with a big dump of water."

Alemany admits there is some nostalgia behind the petition but also believes that the cost of using the Martin Mars is a small drop in the bucket in the overall yearly firefighting budget.

The province did offer to contract the Martin Mars on an 'as needed' basis in 2014, however, the owner turned down the offer needing a more concrete commitment.

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