The B.C. Forest Service air tanker fleet is the responsibility of the Provincial Air Tanker Centre located in Kamloops. Strategic decisions regarding numbers, position and alerts are established by the Air Tanker Centre in consultation with Air Attack Specialists and Fire Centre personnel.
The Air Tanker Centre also provides logistic support to the tanker fleet. Air crew accommodation, meals, rental cars, etc. are coordinated by the Air Tanker Centre. Services that the Air Tanker Centre provides include:
- Initial Attack on fires predicted or threatening to exceed the capabilities of ground resources
- Support Action on project fires where specific attainable objectives are in place
- Holding Action on fires where a delay in ground forces is anticipated
It is important to note that air tankers do not put out fires.
In initial attack, air tankers drop fire retardant and/or foam on or near small fires to limit their spread until ground crews arrive to extinguish them.
In support action, air tankers:
- support ground control lines (by dropping on guard lines to dampen the area)
- limit the spread on portions of the fire (controlled drops on or in front of a portion of the fire)
- cool hot spots (by drops above these identified spots to bring the temperature down)
Air tankers are usually stationed in groups of up to four aircraft, with a combined capacity of up to 15,000 litres, or over 11,000 litres for heavy single aircraft.
An Air Attack Officer flying in a smaller "bird-dog" or lead aircraft directs each group. He or she assesses the fire and directs the air tankers to the most effective and safe drop locations. The Air Attack Officer is an experienced fire specialist with knowledge of air attack techniques and ground crew strategies so that air tankers can best help the ground crews extinguish the fire.