A firefighter at the scene of the Cougar Creek fire at Nahatlatch Provincial Park

New penalties eyed for careless fire starts

Province considers barring people from provincial campgrounds for campfire violations, seizing vehicles of careless smokers

The B.C. government is reviewing its penalties for those who start forest fires with campfires or discarded cigarette butts, as losses pile up from a severe early fire season.

Prince George-Mackenzie MLA Mike Morris has been assigned to the review, as the province’s forest fire crews continue to work flat-out to keep up with lightning-caused fires and those caused by human carelessness. Morris said he will examine what new penalties can be effectively enforced.

“For example, should we be banning those who break fire bans from attending our provincial parks?” Morris said. “Should we look at larger fines up to and including possibly of the impoundment of vehicles for those who flick lit cigarette butts out of their windows?”

One tree faller has been killed this season as the B.C. Wildfire Service continues to work against 175 active wildfires, down from 200 since the start of the week due to cooler weather and showers. The service has tackled more than 1,000 forest fires so far this year, about a third of them human caused.

“There are some who have suggested you can’t legislate against stupidity,” Forests Minister Steve Thomson said. “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.”

Witnesses can report careless smokers or breaches of the province-wide outdoor fire ban with the same phone numbers as to report wildfires, 1-800-663-5555 or *5555 on a mobile phone.

Of the 14 new fires Monday, two are suspected to have been human-caused. About 375 of this season’s fires are listed as human-caused, burning 44,000 hectares.

Most new forest fire starts this week have been from lightning storms in the Kootenay region, but most were accompanied by rain and no large new fires have been added.

States of local emergency continue in the Cariboo, Squamish-Lillooet and Alberni-Clayoquot Regional Districts as of Tuesday.