VICTORIA — British Columbia’s forest firefighters face enough difficulties controlling raging walls of flames that threaten homes, properties and lives without having to worry about drones and pleasure boats getting in the way of their efforts, Forests Minister Steve Thomson said Thursday.
Last summer, when an out-of-control blaze threatened the south Okanagan community of Oliver, firefighters had to ground helicopters and water bombers after a drone was spotted in the fire zone and recreational boaters blocked aircraft from filling their tanks on Okanagan Lake, he said.
Thomson introduced amendments to the Wildlife Act that would increase penalties and fines for failing to comply with fire restrictions and interfering with the actions of firefighters.
Amendments to the act would set a $1,150 fine for failing to comply with a fire restriction, more than three times greater than the current $345 fine. Interference with the actions of firefighters could result in a fine of up to $100,000 and a one-year jail term.
“In August in particular we saw examples of what seemed like irresponsible interference with wildfire suppression,” Thomson said at a news conference.
Fines for 19 different violations under the act would jump dramatically under the amendments, he said.
Nearly 3,000-square-kilometres of B.C. woodland burned during the 2015 fire season, Thomson said, adding that the season started early and lasted longer than normal with 1,836 fires.
He said statistics indicate that between 30 per cent and 40 per cent of forest fires are caused by people.
“In 2015 that was almost 600 fires that were human caused and needlessly drew firefighter resources away from naturally occurring wildfires,” Thomson said. “At many points last year, our firefighting resources were stretched to the limits.”
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