Decision Date: August 7, 2014
Panel: Alan Andison
Keywords: Wildfire Act – ss. 6(2)(a); 30 Wildfire Regulation – s. 6(2)(a), 6(3)(a); roadside mowing; administrative penalty; fire control costs; Crown timber damaged or destroyed by fire; consent order
Interior Roads Ltd. (“IRL”) and Mr. Wayne Blacklock each appealed separate contravention orders, and administrative penalty and cost recovery orders that were issued by the Fire Centre Manager (the “Forest Official”), Coastal Fire Centre, Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources (the “Ministry”). The events that led to the appeal arose from a forest fire that occurred in July 2010.
IRL was a primary contractor responsible for providing road maintenance services to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure in the Central Interior region of British Columbia. Mr. Blacklock was an independent owner and operator of a tractor-mower, and provided contract roadside mowing to IRL. The Senior Foreman of IRL (the “Senior Foreman”) was responsible for supervising Mr. Blacklock’s mowing activities. On July 14, 2010, a fire ignited about eight kilometers west of Alexis Creek along a portion of Highway 20 that Mr. Blacklock had just mowed some minutes earlier. At the relevant time, the fire hazard rating in the area where Mr. Blacklock was mowing was “Extreme”. Ministry firefighters responded to the fire, which burned 177.2 hectares of Crown land. The Ministry’s firefighting costs totalled $465,378.35. The valued of the Crown timber that was damaged or destroyed was $12,522.54.
The Forest Official determined, on a balance of probabilities, that the fire was caused by Mr. Blacklock’s mowing activity. This determination was based, in part, on evidence which suggested that the fire was caused by a mower blade striking a rock. Mr. Blacklock and IRL contested the evidence that was relied upon by the Forest Official in determining that Mr. Blacklock’s mowing activity caused the fire.
The Forest Official found that Mr. Blacklock had contravened section 6(2) of the Wildfire Act and sections 6(2)(a) and 6(3)(a) of the Wildfire Regulation. Mr. Blacklock was found to have contravened section 6(2)(a) of the Wildfire Regulation by failing to determine the relevant fire hazard rating by reference to the representative weather data for the area, and contravened section 6(3)(a) of the Wildfire Regulation by failing to abide by the applicable time restrictions set out in Schedule 3 of the Fire Danger Class.
As IRL was the principal of Mr. Blacklock, IRL was found to have contravened the same provisions as Mr. Blacklock, by operation of section 30 of the Wildfire Act, subject to the defences set out in section 29 of the Wildfire Act. In respect of section 6(2)(a) of the Wildfire Regulation, the Forest Official found that IRL was duly diligent and therefore did not contravene this provision. In respect of section 6(3)(a), the section 29 defences were found not to apply, as the Senior Foreman had instructed Mr. Blacklock to complete a mowing task that he knew would result in Mr. Blacklock violating the time restrictions set out in schedule 3 of the Wildfire Regulation.
Accordingly, the Forest Official issued contravention orders, administrative penalties, and cost recovery orders to Mr. Blacklock and IRL. Mr. Blacklock was issued a $3,000.00 administrative penalty and required to pay $281,340.53 for the government’s fire suppression costs and the Crown timber that was damaged or destroyed (i.e. 60% of the total). IRL was issued a $2,000.00 administrative penalty and required to pay $187,560.36 for the government’s fire suppression costs and the Crown timber that was damaged or destroyed (i.e. 40% of the total).
Mr. Blacklock and IRL appealed the contravention orders, the administrative penalties, and the cost recovery orders.
Prior to the hearing of the appeal, the parties negotiated an agreement with respect to the appealed orders. With the parties’ consent, the Commission confirmed the contravention orders and administrative penalties, and dismissed the related appeals. Further, with the parties’ consent, the Commission set aside the cost recovery orders, and allowed the related appeals.