October 02, 2015 - 4:30 PM
WEST KELOWNA - The fight against the Smith Creek fire in the summer of 2014 is long over but the fight by West Kelowna to claim $195,000 for expenses related to the fire is apparently ongoing.
The 260-hectare Smith Creek fire started July 14, 2014, forcing 2,500 residents from their homes under an evacuation order. Neighbouring fire departments responded to a request from West Kelowna for assistance under a provincial mutual aid agreement.
West Kelowna submitted an expense claim to the province but internal briefing notes obtained by Infonews.ca outline the rationale by Emergency Management B.C. for rejecting it.
According to the document, prepared by fire commissioner Gordon Anderson, West Kelowna did not follow correct procedure filing the claim; the municipality was ineligible for reimbursement anyway because the fire started within its boundaries; and no other community had requested West Kelowna's assistance under a mutal aid agreement
The document was prepared in May 2015 for the Minister of Justice, which at the time, was responsibile for Emergency Management B.C.
The report anticipated a negative reaction from West Kelowna over the news, however West Kelowna Fire Chief Jason Brolund said the Smith Creek expense claim has never been formally rejected and that he has been in ongoing negotiations with the ministry over it, meeting with them as recently as last week at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Vancouver.
“Our response and our claims is not an issue that’s off the table. We haven’t received an outright denial,” Brolund said. “It’s an issue we have been pursuing since the earliest hours of the fire.”
Brolund said the Smith Creek fire was complex in that it crossed and recrossed several different boundaries and jurisdictions during the course of the fire.
“Smith Creek burned in and outside the district, it burned on Crown land both inside the city and outside the city,” he said.
“We never delay or question a response to a fire threatening our communities. We never ask what side of the line it’s on. We go and do what needs to be done to protect our communities."
Brolund said expense claims submitted to government are always scrutinized and questioned, with parts of a claim sometimes rejected while others are paid out.
He said the regulations around mutual aid and expense claims change almost every fire season, leaving most of them as ongoing negotiations rather than being absolutely denied or accepted.
“Every time we do this we learn more about provincial expectations and how to meet them,” Brolund added.
West Kelowna has submitted several expense claims for its part in fighting the Rose Valley and Bear Creek fires from this summer. Those claims total less than $20,000 and Brolund expects they will be honoured.
Emergency Management B.C. did not respond to a request for an interview but Sonia Lowe, a public affairs officer with the Ministry of Transportation, said in an email that West Kelowna has requested and been granted a review of its claim for the 2014 fire season.
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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015