The Little Bobtail Lake fire, which has been burning for two weeks and forced an evacuation of 80 people from their homes, is currently under investigation by the RCMP and the Wildfire Management Branch.
Penalties for starting a wildfire can be up to $1-million in fines, a year in prison or if found guilty, offenders could be held responsible for the costs associated with fighting the fire.
At the height of the firefighting efforts, 320 firefighters, 8 helicopters, 46 pieces of heavy equipment and 6 air tankers were working to control and extinguish the wildfire, those costs are substantial. The wildfire claimed 25,000 hectares (more than 61,000 acres) of ecosystem resources and potentially disrupted hydrologic functioning in waterways.
The most recent update on the fire puts an estimated cost of $5.3M for the personnel and equipment utilized to fight the wildfire. Someone’s possible carelessness has cost the region and the taxpayers millions of dollars that had potential for better use. That hefty cost doesn’t include the loss to the residents that had to subsequently be evacuated or the mental anguish which those residents most certainly experienced at the possibility of losing everything.
Insurance won’t bring back memories.
In 2013, approximately $122M was spent on wildfire suppression province-wide, with 414 of the 1,851 fires in the province being caused by people, according to Wildfire Management Branch statistics. Between 2006 and 2013, the province has recovered less than 1 per cent of damages and of the more than 5,800 human caused fires, only convicting 34 people with contraventions of the Wildfire Act (SBC 2004) with 15 to 20 contravention proceedings in continuing stages of completion.
With such unimpressive results in finding and charging persons responsible and recovering costs associated with fighting wildfires caused by people, the province might be better served by placing province-wide fire bans beginning shortly after the spring melt. Money spent proactively by investing in the increased presence of wildlife and forestry officials across the province could provide a more effective means to offset some of the millions of dollars spent annually fighting fires caused by people.
As the saying goes: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.