Almost all of the wildfires were human-caused, and wildfires caused by people unnecessarily divert firefighting crews and resources from naturally occurring fires, the ministry said in a press release. Many parts of British Columbia are also experiencing unseasonably warm and dry conditions this spring.
Another statement from the ministry on Friday noted that since April 1, 12 fires have burned 88 hectares in the Prince George Fire Centre, which covers an area from the Northwest Territories and Yukon in the north to Tweedsmuir Provincial Park, the Cottonwood River and the Robson Valley in the south, and from the Alberta border in the east to the Skeena Mountains in the west.
BC Wildfire Service crews or local fire departments have extinguished four of the fires in the Prince George Fire Centre, while the other eight are currently in the patrol stage. “All of these fires are suspected to have been caused by people and resulted from grass burning or pile burning,” the statement said.
The statement noted that if an open fire escapes, the individual responsible may be held liable for fire suppression costs and damages. “People must ensure that they are burning in a safe, responsible manner that is in accordance with regulations and current conditions.”
On April 1, increased fines for a variety of wildfire-related violation tickets came into force in B.C., meaning that anyone caught contravening specified open burning and campfire regulations could now face fines more than three times higher than last year’s penalties.
The regulatory changes were initially announced on March 10 and significantly increase ticket fines for 19 different violations under the Wildfire Act and another seven violations under the Wildfire Regulation. These changes mean that British Columbia now has some of the highest wildfire-related violation ticket fines in Canada, the ministry reported at the time. For example, the fine for not complying with a fire restriction under the Wildfire Act has tripled from $345 to $1,150. Failing to properly extinguish a burning substance, such as a cigarette, will now cost an offender $575, while failing to assess fire hazard will cost $767.
Not only could anyone found in contravention of an open fire prohibition be issued a ticket for $1,150, if convicted in court, they could be fined up to $100,000 and sentenced to one year in jail. If the contravention causes or contributes to a wildfire, the person responsible may be subject to a penalty of up to $10,000 and be ordered to pay all firefighting and associated costs.
On average, 30 to 40% of wildfires in B.C. each year are caused by people, according to the ministry. The 2015 fire season was one of the busiest and most expensive in recent years, with over 283,400 hectares burned and over $278 million spent on wildfire management.