A North Okanagan sawmill has been cleared of responsibility for a wildfire that started at one of its work sites in 2017.
The B.C. Forest Appeals Commission confirmed that North Enderby Timber burned a number of slash piles in November 2016 at a cut block about six kilometres east of Clearwater and 40 km north of Adams Lake. One of those slash piles spread into a wildfire eight months later.
The commission’s decision notes that holdover fires have been found to occur as much as 18 months after debris pile burning.
Investigator Brian Morrison found that the wildfire most likely started as a holdover fire from the slash pile. Investigator Burke Nesjan disagreed that a holdover fire was the cause, but the panel ultimately sided with Morrison.
The panel ruled that North Enderby’s “intentional ignition of the debris pile cannot be said to have been the wilful and intentional ignition of the wildfire. Neither can it be said that North Enderby’s lack of diligence in relation to the debris pile burning amounts to a wilful omission leading to the wildfire.”
That means the company won’t have to pay the roughly $156,600 the government spent on putting out the resulting wildfire, which burned some 30 hectares.
However, North Enderby Timber was issued a fine for $66,871 — the value of the mature Crown timber that was damaged by the wildfire. The company was also fined $5,000 in administrative penalties and $936 for the government’s silviculture expenses.
North Enderby’s sister company, Canadian Cedar Oil Technologies, was fined $2,500 in administrative penalties.
The panel did find that North Enderby Timber “failed to exercise due diligence to prevent the wildfire,” as they had no written policies governing debris pile burning and provided no supervision to their contractor. However, they also found that the company did not wilfully cause or contribute to the wildfire, which according to legislation means the company is not responsible for paying fire control costs.