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B.C. to review penalties for people who spark wildfires

The Cisco Road wildfire has been burning near Lytton for more than a month and is still considered active. The cause of the fire is listed as under investigation but was originally thought to be human-caused.
Image Credit: B.C. Wildfire
July 15, 2015 - 8:30 AM


VICTORIA - Fines and penalties currently in place for people who spark wildfires in British Columbia are coming under review as the provincial government looks for ways to cut down the number of fires it has to fight.

Forests Minister Steve Thomson said Tuesday that humans have caused 375 of the 1,086 wildfires that have been reported since April 1 and those flames have burned 440 square kilometres.

Not only have they tied up resources that could have been used to fight lightning-caused wildfires, but members of the public have asked him whether the current punishments in place are working, he said.

Thomson has asked his parliamentary secretary Mike Morris, who also represents Prince George-Mackenzie in the legislature, to review the sanctions and bring forward any other ideas that may deter people from "irresponsible behaviour."

"There are some who suggest that you can't legislate against stupidity, but if exploring the idea of increasing fines or acting on ideas that mean more people will get the message, I think we should be prepared to have a look at it," he said.

Morris said he'll consider banning people who break fire prohibitions from provincial parks, and he questioned whether individuals who flick lit cigarette butts out of car windows could have their vehicles impounded.

No timeline for the review has been set, but Morris said he'd like to get to work as quickly as possible, and some of the ideas may require legislative changes.

"This is an extremely difficult fire season for us and I think it's important that we do everything possible to stop human-caused fires. They are stoppable," he said. "We need to send a clear message that we take this issue very seriously and that human-caused wildfires are unacceptable."

Current laws allow officials to fine people $115 for failing to report a fire, $173 for dropping, releasing, mishandling or failing to extinguish a burning substance and $345 for breaking campfire restrictions, said Thomson.

When asked if the government would consider a smoking ban in the wilderness, Thomson said, "I don't think I'm limiting him (Morris) in ... what suggestions he might bring forward."

Thomson said it is important to think outside the box.

Provincial fire information officer Navi Saini said 201 blazes are currently burning around the province. She said the 1,086 fires reported since April 1 have burned more than 2,790 square kilometres and have cost more than $116 million to fight.

A campfire ban remains in effect across B.C., except for Haida Gwaii and the fog zone, a narrow strip along the west coast of Vancouver Island, she added.

The B.C. Wildfire Service said 115 properties remain under evacuation order, and more than 240 homes and about 300 residents of the Alexis Creek First Nation are still on evacuation alert.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2015
The Canadian Press

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