With fire season underway, Slave Lake Airtanker Base is a hub of activity.
Walking onto the airtanker base, rust coloured water is visible in the ditches. It also stains the tarmac.
This is from the fire retardant which is put into the big airtankers.
CBC and The Lakeside Leader recently had the opportunity to witness a airtanker being loaded with fire retardant.
The fire retardant is a mixture of fertilizer, red dye, chalk, and water, says Leah Lovequist, Wildfire Information Officer for the Slave Lake Forest Area. It is dyed red so it is visible.
The retardant is highly effective, Lovequist says. It keeps trees from igniting for several hours.
The retardant is the first thing dropped on fires, Lovequist says. The big bombers drop it in lines on all sides of the fire to box it in. Then smaller planes and helicopters drop water on the flames.
The big bombers are converted passenger planes with big tanks instead of seats, Lovequist says.
Loading an airtanker takes seven minutes, loaderman Kent Armstrong says.
Armstrong is in his second fire season as loaderman at Slave Lake Airtanker Base.
Armstrong describes the process of loading from storage to plane. Water and retardant are stored separately in the four big red tanks. When the flow is opened, water flows through a large hose and retardant comes out a smaller one. These are mixed at a ratio of 5.5 times water to retardant and pumped into the belly of the plane.
It took years for people to perfect the ratio, but now it is set, says Armstrong.
Planes loaded in Slave Lake may take off and go to nearby airbases to be on call in case of fire, says Lovequist.
With the current level of fire danger, crews in helicopters and planes are on five-minute-call-out, says Lovequist.