A volunteer fire department in central B.C. says people who haven't paid an annual fee will be on their own if their house catches fire.

The Watch Lake-North Green Lake Volunteer Fire Department charges a membership fee to the 532 properties in their service area, said Roy Allan, president of the board of directors.

Owners of developed properties pay $160 a year for fire coverage. Undeveloped property owners pay $90 a year. All the money goes to running the volunteer fire department, said Allan.

'We're not trying to be vindictive here' —Roy Allan, Watch Lake-North Green Lake Volunteer Fire Department

Allan said 85 per cent of property owners have paid, but the remaining 15 per cent are on their own if disaster strikes.

"We have decided not to respond to fires on unpaid property. We will protect the surrounding property and the forest area around that property."

Allan said firefighters will only put out a blaze for non-members if they sign a consent form and pay $1,000 an hour to the department, for use of their equipment.

He says fire crews will still act to save lives of people and animals at unpaid properties.

"Some people, it's just the recreational cabin. It's old furniture and that sort of thing, so if it burns up, 'so what?'  They don't really care. They aren't thinking of their fellow community members who are risking their lives to fight the fire."

Watch Lake, B.C.

Watch Lake, B.C.

He said his department is following the lead of other independent fire departments in the region, like the Chimney and Felker Lakes Fire Department and the Greeny Lake Volunteer Fire Department, which he said gave non-paying property owners a similar ultimatum.

"This has just come to a head this year. We were advised by the director of emergency services for the Cariboo Regional District that we were putting our firefighters in extreme jeopardy here, that they may not be covered by Work Safe B.C. if they entered properties upon which the dues had not been paid. We're not trying to be vindictive here."

Allan said the volunteer fire department has notified all property owners of the new policy.

With files from the CBC's Brady Strachan