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B.C. looking to improve Wildfire Act enforcement

The B.C. government has released its findings from an investigation into compliance and recovering costs from those responsible for causing wildfires.

According to the B.C. government, the investigation found that the Wildfire Act has a well-defined and consistent process, but there is some room for improvement.

Some of those issues came from the way the act is written.

Officials said the recommendations are as follows:

  • Improve the process to determine compensation for mature and immature trees on public land that are damaged or destroyed by a wildfire.
  • Allow decision-makers to order fines for some, none or all fire-control costs and value of damage to public resources when more than one person is at fault.
  • Expand the availability of defences to those who did not contravene the Wildfire Act, but are still found responsible for causing or contributing to a wildfire.
  • Exempt forest licensees from having to pay fire-control costs when fire-hazard reduction work accidentally leads to a wildfire.

The last recommendation stems from a B.C. Supreme Court decision that found a forest company was liable for the costs of a wildfire that came from a burning debris pile.

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“The board is concerned that forest licensees may be discouraged from reducing the fuel hazards left behind after harvesting if they are liable for the costs, should an accidental wildfire occur,” said B.C. Government officials.

Approximately half of all wildfires across the province hare human-caused, and the government said it has spent about $2.7 billion on wildfire suppression in the past decade.

Some of that cost can be recovered, however, as the province can penalize people or companies that spark a fire or violate the Wildfire Act.

If someone is found responsible, the province can issue fines, recover costs or go through other remediation.

Provincial officials note that work to address some of the issues is already underway.

“The board found that few determinations included an order for the recovery of damages to public resources like timber, forest land and grassland,” said provincial government staff. “Government has recently established policies to consistently assess those damages in future determinations. Government has also taken steps to notify people under investigation earlier in the process, which should help them better prepare to address the allegations made against them.”

“Government has a responsibility to help the public understand that they could be liable for the costs of extinguishing a wildfire they cause or contribute to and that these costs can be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said Rick Monchak a Forest Practices Board member. “More public awareness of the high price of risky or irresponsible behaviour may help reduce the number of human-caused fires.”

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