Editorial: Increased fire penalties a step in the right direction

New measures will likely help people stop and think before making a stupid mistake that can have far-reaching ramifications

While recent spring rains may have dampened the memory of the long, dry summer that was 2015, stiffer penalties announced this week by the B.C. government will undoubtedly be welcomed by firefighters around the province and here at home.

Not to mention homeowners living in areas vulnerable to wildfire – including here in Oak Bay – and those concerned about the risk to local parks.

Provincial Forests Minister Steve Thomson announced Thursday that fines for 19 offences under the Wildfire Act, including interfering with wildfire protection efforts, are being increased to among the highest in Canada.

For example, the fine for failing to comply with fire restrictions such as campfire bans will increase to $1,150 from $345. A new penalty of failing to comply with a stop-work order made because of fire risk will carry a maximum penalty of $100,000 and one year in prison. Additional areas still under review include penalties for those who toss lit cigarette’s out of car windows and those who ignore campfire bans.

The legislation will also redefine “interference” with firefighters, to include interference that’s not necessarily intentional – boaters who block air tankers from filling with water, for example, or the drone pilot who caused aircraft to land as vineyards, homes and a school around Oliver were threatened by fire.

Last summer, the Island’s incredibly dry summer brought an earlier-than-usual campfire ban and hazy, orange-tinged skies from the wildfires burning throughout B.C. It also brought reminders from Oak Bay Fire about the risks the conditions posed to local property where expansive grasslands filled with tinder-dry combustible material stand in proximity to many residential neighbourhoods.

Will the measures put an end to human-caused wildfires? No. But they’ll likely help more people stop and think before making a stupid mistake that can have far-reaching ramifications.