A new Saskatchewan government program allowing crop-duster pilots to fight grass fires will cost $2,000 per plane per hour when air support is called for.
The Single Engine Aircraft Tanker (SEAT) program enables seven Transport Canada-approved operators in Saskatchewan to battle wildland fires using water, foam or a mixture of both.
The group that calls for a crop-duster will be responsible for footing the bill, according to the provincial government.
“The crop dusting industry has become a very professional industry and this firefighting is going to be just one more part of it for our company,” said Travis Karle, owner and chief pilot of Accumark Airspray.
When someone spots a grass fire and calls 911, the local fire department will determine whether or not it needs a crop-duster.
The municipality would pay the hourly rate of $2,000 per plane unless the fire crosses into a second jurisdiction or if the fire is on provincial land.
In those cases, the province pays for the air support.
Staffing one fire truck with two or three crew members costs $1,200 to $1,400, but it can only carry half as much water as a plane, Karle said.
No aircraft had been called out as of Tuesday.
Officials formalized the SEAT program, in part, because of a devastating blaze near Burstall, Sask., in October 2017.
“Certainly the southwest last year had some pretty stark impacts as a result of wildfires,” said Duane McKay, Saskatchewan’s commissioner of emergency management and fire safety.
Producers lost 770 cattle and 360 square kilometres of land in the fire, according to the provincial government. Fences, outbuildings and other structures were also damaged or destroyed.
The SEAT program is slated to be fully operational by mid-summer.