British Columbia

B.C. introduces stiffer penalties for off-road vehicles in effort to reduce wildfire risk

Following B.C.’s worst wildfire season on record, the provincial government is bringing in tougher penalties for off-road vehicles, in an effort to reduce future wildfire risks

Up to $100,000 in penalties for violators

B.C. has introduced stiffer penalties for irresponsible off-roaders and utility companies whose actions put provincial land at risk for a wildfire. The penalties increase if their actions spark flames. (Shutterstock)

Months after B.C.'s worst wildfire season on record, the province is bringing in new tougher penalties for off-road vehicles and rural utility companies in an effort to keep fire risk down this summer.

Riders are now required to have spark-stopping devices on their vehicles and face steeper fines for breaking the rules, along with possible jail time.

Utility companies who put the backcountry at risk are also facing higher fines of up to $10,000.

"These changes reflect the tougher stand that our government is taking to eliminate unnecessary wildfire risks, encourage compliance, protect communities from harm and help keep British Columbians safe," said Doug Donaldson, minister of forests, lands and natural resource operations.

Last year, B.C. banned off-road vehicles from riding through Crown land in the Cariboo, Kamloops and Southeast fire centres for the first time to prevent human-caused wildfires and protect the public.

Spark catchers

Off-road vehicles on provincial land are now required to have spark arrestors installed year-round. The arrestors are small devices installed in an exhaust system to block sparks and other debris — which can start fires — from coming out of the tailpipe.

Newer vehicles likely already have arrestors, but older ones may not.

"This is more so about folks who may have modified theirs, or bought a used ATV," said the province's chief fire information officer Kevin Skrepnek.

Off-road vehicles on provincial land are now required to have spark arrestors installed year-round. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Violators face a $460 fine or an administrative penalty of up to $10,000 if their off-road vehicle is found without a spark detector.

The fines are steeper if a wildfire starts because of a vehicle that didn't have an arrestor: the operator could be ticketed $575, ordered to pay the $10,000 administrative penalty, or receive a court-ordered fine of $1 million.

They could also be jailed for up to three years.

Increases to existing fines

Two new administrative penalties have been added under the Wildfire Act.

Utility companies face steeper penalties if their operation leads to a fire. For example, if a wildfire is started because an improperly maintained tree near a power line falls on the cable and starts a fire, the person who should've been maintaining the foliage could be fined up to $100,000.

Ontario firefighter Jordan Mack walks through the remains of the Green Mountain wildfire, southeast of Quesnel, B.C., in July 2017. (Wil Fundal/CBC News)

People who refuse to stop doing high-risk work after a stop-work order has been issued can now be ordered to pay $10,000. 

Three fines for violating the Wildfire Act have also been upped to $1,150 from $767 for the following:

  • failing to comply with restricted area requirements.
  • disobeying an order restricting an activity or use.
  • disobeying an order to leave a specified area.

Call for action on guns

Some people living near provincial land say the harsher penalties still aren't enough.

Pat Peebles, who lives near Falkland, B.C., said she wants to see more restrictions for guns during wildfire season.

Last year, she and her neighbours barricaded a rural road to keep people from heading into the bone-dry woods for target practice.

"When you fire a gun, there is a spark factor every time the bullet leaves the chamber, and that metal jacket that hits the ground, it can be red hot," Peebles said Thursday.

Trees burned by wildfire are seen in this aerial view from a Canadian Forces Chinook helicopter as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau views areas affected by fire near Williams Lake, B.C., on Monday, July 31, 2017. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Residents are also asking for temporary road closures to keep off-road vehicles from heading up forest service roads during fire season.

Kevin Skrepnek, chief fire information officer for the province, said there are area restrictions on exploding targets lumped in with seasonal burning bans.

"Obviously [exploding targets] do carry a concern," he said.

However, he said there aren't any plans to limit other forms of target practice.

Pat Peebles, centre, joined by her neighbours to barricade a forest service road near their Falkland homes last summer. (Pat Peebles)

Last year's wildfires burned through more than 1.2 million hectares of land in B.C. — a 56-year high.

More than 45,000 people were displaced and the province spent more than $560 million fighting the flames.

With files from Brady Strachan