Magnus MacKenzie, Verin Mapstone and Jon MacKenzie surround Atleo Air owner Jason Bertin and happilly hand him an $800 cheque they raised from an online community fundraising initiative in support of Atleo Air’s recent firefighting heroics. (Photo - Andrew Bailey)

Tofino douses Atleo Air firefighting heroes with support

Community says thanks after chopper volunteers extinguish remote brush fire

Jason Bertin is feeling Tofino’s love after a fundraiser posted online to help pay his helicopter company back for heroically extinguishing a remote wildfire last month took less than 36 hours to exceed its goal.

As was reported in the Westerly News, Bertin and Atleo Air helicopter pilot Antony Dickinson were alerted to a brush fire near Bulson River and immediately sprang into action, dousing the flames with buckets of water attached to their aircraft by a cable.

READ MORE: Atleo Air pilot douses brush fire near Tofino

After hearing of Atleo Air’s heroics, Jon MacKenzie and Verin Mapstone launched a GoFundMe campaign on July 10 and were delighted to present Bertin, the company’s owner, with an $800 cheque on July 18.

“This is a very small community and, while we have lots of tourists come through every year, it is the small business owners and community people who live here year-round who are the backbone of this place and, if we don’t support each other, then what do we have? We’re very remote. We need to look after each other and we all need to help out when it’s needed,” Mapstone told the Westerly News adding the fundraiser flew past its $700 goal quickly.

“I’m extremely proud of my community. Even in the face of having such a big tourism industry and a lot of issues here in this small town with housing and other things; it’s nice to see that when the need arose, people stepped up and gave what they could.”

MacKenzie and Mapstone own and operate local bookkeeping and web development company Tough Books and Business and MacKenzie said they understand how hard it can be for Tofino business owners to cover unexpected expenses during the summer.

“For Jason to be doing this out of his own pocket is a really big deal for his business, it’s a big hit. So, as a community, we feel like we ought to support him and as a community Tofino rose up and absolutely did. We met our goal and exceeded it,” he said.

He added that he plans to petition Tofino’s municipal council and the provincial government to develop a trust that would help fund firefighting activities around the West Coast’s remote forest areas.

“We’ve got one of the driest summers on record this year and we’re expecting it to continue to be dry,” he said. We as a community need to put ourselves in a position where we are able to meet the need so far away from any kind of government forest fire fighting abilities.”

READ MORE: Conditions ‘very dry’ across Vancouver Island despite rainfall

Bertin told the Westerly News that operating helicopters is costly as maintenance, fuel and insurance bills add up.

“It’s an expensive beast to run, but they are so capable of doing a variety of roles on the coast here and we love them,” he said adding he was heartened to see his community step up to support him through MacKenzie and Mapstone’s fundraising efforts.

“It’s very touching, it actually even brought a tear to my eye when I heard this was all happening and these guys put this together…It’s a busy time of year for us and for other businesses and individuals in Tofino to take a little time out, contribute and throw some of the costs back to us for that operation is heartwarming. It means a lot.”

He added the town’s generosity was another of a long list of experiences that have kept his love of Tofino strong.

“I’m so stoked to be here. This is one of the most beautiful spots on the planet. I came here on vacation 20 years ago and haven’t left,” he said adding rising to the occasion and putting out the growing wildfire was instinctual. “We just couldn’t let something burn in a beautiful spot…We’re really connected to that valley, which is one of the few pristine valleys in Clayoquot Sound and we just didn’t want to see anything happen to that spot.”

READ MORE: North Island communities plan for wildfires amid mounting anxiety



andrew.bailey@westerlynews.ca

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