British Columbia

Off-road vehicles banned in parts of B.C. to help prevent wildfires

Effective on Friday at noon, off-road vehicles for recreational use are prohibited from Crown land in the Cariboo, Kamloops and Southeast Fire Centres.

Vehicles have to stay on designated roads in the Kamloops, Cariboo and Southeast fire centres

Off-road vehicles are prohibited from fire centres in the Cariboo, Kamloops and Southeast fire centres as of noon on Friday. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

B.C. has banned off-road vehicles from areas of three major regions of the province to prevent any more human-caused wildfires during one of the worst fire seasons on record.

Effective at noon on Friday, recreational off-road vehicles are prohibited from Crown land in the Cariboo, Kamloops and Southeast fire centres. The ban doesn't apply to private land or national parks.

The Ministry of Forests said the ban is in effect to help protect the public.

Emergency response and commercial vehicles that need access for farming or business purposes are still allowed.

Jeeps, trucks and other cars are permitted on designated roads, including forest service roads, but cannot go off-road.

See a map of the affected areas.

The Cariboo Regional District lobbied for the ban for weeks, saying locals were concerned about sparks from ATVs and dirbikes starting fires in tinder-dry conditions.

Margo Wagner, one of the district directors, says some people were brought to tears over the issue.

"I have had people calling me and crying on the phone over this ... we live out here and we know how dry things are," Wagner said. "While we appreciate people come up here to recreate, they unfortunately won't have anywhere to recreate if fires continue to spark and spread."

Harper said communities will suffer from an economic standpoint if off-roaders stop coming, but that's something to worry about later.

"If we don't care to protect the forest that is currently not burning, we're not going to have a tourism industry. Nobody is going to want to come up and spend two weeks by a lake and look at grey toothpicks standing in a deserted forest," she said Friday.

"Unfortunately, we have to be proactive in this instead of reactive."

Public interference

Last week, the B.C. Wildfire Service asked the public to stay away from areas where fire crews could be working.

Chief information officer Kevin Skrepnek said firefighters have had to stop work after off-road vehicles got in their way.

He said boats have also been an issue for helicopters and water-skimming aircraft that scoop water from lakes.

"This is just a matter of the public needing to understand that these are very active areas and likely will be for the rest of the summer," Skrepnek said Saturday.

Emergency response vehicles and heavy machinery used to fight the wildfires is still allowed off-road during the ban. Last week, the B.C. Wildfire Service said recreational vehicles had forced firefighters to stop work. (Simon Hergott)

Vic Bartel, president of the Similkameen Valley Riders ATV club, said he and his group are "very concerned" about conditions in the backcountry and not at all opposed to the ban.

"It's just irresponsible to take an ATV or a dirt bike out in the bush right now, because just the slightest spark will light up the forest ... the bush is just too dry," said Bartel, who lives about 35 kilometres north of Princeton.

"We're in a constant mode of trying to keep everybody informed of good trail etiquette and adhere to laws," he added.

B.C. is in the middle of its worst wildfire season in nearly 60 years. Conditions are expected to worsen as August is typically the busiest month of the year for firefighters.

Anyone who ignores the off-roading ban could be fined up to $767. If they cause a wildfire or make an existing fire worse, the ministry said they could be ordered to pay firefighting costs in full.

With files from CBC Radio West