MLA REPORT: Wildfire prevention remains top priority

Wildfires pose a significant threat to communities, natural resources and infrastructure

The opening of the B.C. Parks reservation system this month has started the unofficial countdown to summer in the North Okanagan.

Residents are looking forward to long, warm summer days spent exploring our beautiful region. However, the arrival of spring and summer also means the arrival of wildfire season.

Wildfires pose a significant threat to communities, natural resources and infrastructure. Firefighting efforts in our province cost taxpayers millions of dollars per year.

The 2015 fire season was one of the busiest and most expensive in recent years, with more than $278 million spent on wildfire management.

You might be surprised to learn that between 30 and 40 per cent of wildfires in our province are human-caused.

Careless actions such as throwing cigarette butts out the car window or leaving a campfire unattended can cause large-scale destruction. This is simply unacceptable.

Our government promised British Columbians that we would enact tougher penalties to discourage irresponsible behaviour that contributes to increased wildfire risks. We are delivering on that promise by proclaiming some of the largest wildfire-related violation ticket fines in the country.

Legislative changes will result in increased fines for 19 different violations under the Wildfire Act, as well as seven violations under the wildfire regulation.

The fine for failing to comply with a fire restriction under the Wildfire Act has more than tripled from $345 to $1,150.

We have increased penalties for those who get in the way of firefighting efforts to ensure that our hardworking firefighters are able to respond to wildfires effectively.

The new regulations make it clear that interference does not have to be intentional to be against the law.

In addition, failing to comply with a stop-work order could result in a penalty of up to $100,000 and/or jail time of up to one year.

It’s important to know that you can report a wildfire, abandoned campfire or open-burning violation by calling 1-800-663-5555 toll-free, or dial *5555 on a cellphone.

Wildfire prevention is everyone’s responsibility. This spring and summer, I strongly urge everyone to do their part in eliminating potential wildfire threats.

Together, let’s keep our forests and communities safe.

Eric Foster is MLA for Vernon-Monashee.