Decision Date: November 23, 2020
Panel: Jeff Hand
Keywords: Wildfire Act – s. 25; Wildfire Regulation – s. 31; wildfire; cost recovery order; fire suppression costs; holdover fire
Troy Howard Nelson appealed an order issued in April 2019 by the Deputy Fire Centre Manager (the “Manager”), Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (the “Ministry”).
On March 22, 2016, the Appellant burned an area of grass on his property located near Dawson Creek, BC. The next day, he and his wife put out any observable hotspots. Smoke was observed in the area of an old tree stump. The Appellant continued to observe the area for several days. By April 4, 2016, he no longer observed any smoke or other signs of fire.
On April 18, 2016, there was high winds. That afternoon, a wildfire was observed on the Property, and it spread to adjacent Crown land. The Appellant fought the fire, with assistance from local fire officials, until the BC Wildfire Service arrived on April 19. The wildfire was declared under control that day, but it continued to burn until it was declared out on June 20, 2016. The final size of the wildfire was approximate 475 hectares. The BC Wildfire Service investigators determined that the wildfire had originated on the Appellant’s property in the vicinity of a stump where a ‘holdover’ fire from the grass fire had smouldered underground.
After giving the Appellant an opportunity to be heard, the Manager determined that the grass fire lit by the Appellant caused a ‘holdover’ fire in the stump, that later caused the wildfire. The Manager ordered the Appellant to pay $349,445.17 for the government’s fire control costs in relation to the wildfire, under section 25 of the Wildfire Act and section 31 of the Wildfire Regulation.
The Appellant appealed the order. He submitted that the hearing before the Manager was unfair, and the Manager failed to consider the possibility that a trespasser had caused the holdover fire that led to the wildfire. He requested that the Commission rescind the order.
The Commission found that any procedural unfairness during the hearing before the Manager was cured by the appeal process, which was conducted as a new hearing of the matter. The Appellant had a full opportunity to lead evidence, respond to the Government’s evidence, and make submissions in support of his appeal.
In addition, the Commission found that although there was evidence that trespassers had historically entered the Appellant’s property, there was no evidence that trespassers were present on the day the wildfire was discovered or during the time after the Appellant’s grass fire. Speculation that a trespasser might have been in the area where the wildfire originated, which was difficult to access, was insufficient to rebut the wildfire investigator’s evidence that the Appellant’s grass fire caused the wildfire.
Accordingly, the Commission confirmed the Manager’s order and dismissed the appeal.