The Ministry of Forests has announce plans to toughen up legislation targeting behaviours that increase wildfire risks.
Minister for Public Safety Mike Morris says the changes are desperately needed.
“Every year for a number of years now, the number of fires that are human caused in BC have been increasing. We needed to do something drastic that would catch the attention of people that frequent the outdoors and try and reduce the number of human caused fires.”
The Ministry’s plans include tripling the fines for failing to comply with fire restrictions. The current fine is $345. The changes will see that amount go up to $1150, an increase of more than 330%.
The 2015 wildfire season was one of the most expensive in recent years and saw the province spend more than $278 million on wildfire management. Morris says it’s not just the cost of fighting fires that has the government concerned.
“Millions of cubic meters of wood are lost every year in wildfires. It has a significant impact on, not only industry but on revenue coming into government. Human caused wildfires cost in the hundreds of millions of dollars every year and we just can’t afford it.”
More than 280,000 hectares of BC Forests burned last year. Morris says the province is focused on doing whatever it takes to improve the situation.
“Anything that we can do to reduce human caused wildfires is the direction we want to go.”
The Ministry is also planning to crack down on looky-lous who get in the way of firefighting efforts. It plans to clarify what interfering means and will make getting in the way of firefighters, even unintentionally, a contravention of the Wildfire Act. According to Morris, interference by members of the public has become more of an issue recently.
“We had some problems last summer with people using drones to try and take pictures of the water bombers and the helicopters and the people fighting the fires and of course that interferes with the ability of those aircraft to be operating.”
Last year, firefighting efforts near Oliver had to be halted for hours because of a drone in the air space around an active fire. Boaters and canoeists sometimes get in the way of water bombers taking on water, says Morris.
All in all, the planned changes will result in increased ticket fines for 19 different violations under the Wildfire Act and seven more under Wildfire Regulation. According to the Ministry of Forests the proposed changes will give BC some of the highest wildfire violation ticket fines in the country.