The Monte Lake wildfire last year wasn’t caused by a cigarette butt - InfoNews

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The Monte Lake wildfire last year wasn’t caused by a cigarette butt

The Martin Mountain wildfire near Monte Creek is seen in this submitted photo, Wednesday, July 26, 2017.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Jennifer Boyle
April 10, 2018 - 8:00 PM

NORTH OKANAGAN - Fire investigators have their suspicions about how a large wildfire started in the community of Monte Lake last summer — and it doesn’t involve a cigarette butt.

As flames sprung up on the edge of Highway 97 near Monte Lake July 26, 2017, a popular theory simultaneously began to spread: that a discarded butt was to blame. The idea appears to have originated from a particular Facebook post stating “absolutely crazy how quick it took off. How do people not have enough sense to not flick your butt out the window? I wish I saw which vehicle did it.”

But in an extensive fire cause and origin report released to iNFOnews.ca under the Freedom of Information Act, investigators ruled out a cigarette butt as the ignition source.

Officials with the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations conducted a grid search — which included sifting through debris — of the ignition area (the base of a highway sign) and did not find any smoking materials in that area. They did find four butts to the east of the ignition area, but all were considered old and weathered. The investigators did note that the right environmental conditions were there for a cigarette butt to possibly start a fire — factors such as humidity and temperature — however they ultimately excluded cigarette butts as the cause due to their observations and grid search.

In an email released with the report, a conservation officer noted the Facebook poster was “making some pretty big assumptions” about a cigarette being the cause, since she didn’t see one tossed or get a vehicle description.

Facebook post referenced in an investigative report on the suspected cause of the Martin Mountain Wildfire in 2017.
Facebook post referenced in an investigative report on the suspected cause of the Martin Mountain Wildfire in 2017.
Image Credit: Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations

More likely, but still undetermined, is the possibility that a vehicle caused the fire, either due to friction caused by something metal — like dragging a chain — or by exhaust particles.

Investigators say the fire was “one of a number of wildfires ignited in this same general area which all were suspected to be motor vehicle related.”

“Possibly a motor vehicle being driven by a local resident or transport truck travelling through the Monte Lake area was the cause of these roadside ignitions, although not confirmed,” the report states.

Investigators sifted through debris and used magnets to search for clues.
Investigators sifted through debris and used magnets to search for clues.
Image Credit: Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations

Investigators also found a small metal fragment during the magnetic portion of their search, although they could not say for sure if it came from a vehicle.

The fire cause is listed as undetermined, with the suspected cause identified as a passing vehicle leaving behind sparks or exhaust particles. Fire investigators considered every other possible cause and detailed why they were excluded before landing on that determination.  

The Martin Mountain Wildfire, as it came to be known, eventually grew to roughly 150 hectares and led to dozens of properties being evacuated. One family lost their home to the blaze.


To contact a reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston or call 250-309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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