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Landowner faces costly fine in connection with 2019 wildfire west of Quesnel

A landowner in the Cariboo region has been ordered to pay a fine of 450 thousand dollars in connection with a wildfire on Batnuni Road, approximately 137 kilometres west of Quesnel.

The B.C. Forest Appeals Commission (FAC) rejected Clarke Matthiesen’s appeal for the April 21st, 2019 fire that started on a property owned by him and his brother.

The Commission rejected his claim that the real cause of the fire was arson by his neighbour’s “troubled” grandson.

He claimed that he was not living with his parents due to illicit drug use and gang activity, and that he did some work on his property until that relationship ended when the grandson became “increasingly hostile.”

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The appellant testified that he had also discovered illegal marijuana plants belonging to the grandson on Crown land not far from the Property.

He says he removed the plants and that the grandson reacted to this by threatening that “Your cabin and everything you have gonna be burnt to the ground”.

The Commission panel, in handing down its decision, stated that the appellant didn’t mention arson at the time that the fire was originally being investigated or during interactions after that.

It also stated that investigators didn’t observe any items to suggest arson or suspicious activity as the cause of the wildfire.

The panel determined that the cause of the wildfire was a holdover fire from a burn pile that was lit back on February 4th.

It says the appellant had never lit a debris pile of that size before and did not obtain a burn registration number for his fire or consult with a fire official regarding fire safety practices prior to lighting it.

The panel says the appellant explained that he lit the pile in the winter since the snow around the pile would be a fuel break, and that he had been told this by a road maintenance company.

It says he also testified that, in the weeks following the burn, he passed by the site of the burn pile dozens of times and that it appeared to be out.

An Open Fire Prohibition Order was issued on April 16, 2019 by the BC Wildfire Service and on the 21st at around 11:45 a.m. the appellant noticed smoke rising from a field where his truck was parked.

At approximately 5:39 pm that evening, BC Wildfire Service response personnel arrived at the Property.

On April 22, 2019 two new fires were located.

All fires were declared out on May 5th.

It was determined that the appellant had contravened section 5(1) of the wildfire act by failing to light, fuel, or use an open fire in accordance with the prescribed requirements, as well as section 22(3) for failing to comply with an Open Fire Prohibition Order established by the Cariboo Fire Centre, and section 22(3) of the Regulation for failing to ensure that a category 3 open fire did not escape.

The fine covers the cost of controlling the fire ($260,369.93), damage or destruction of Crown resources ($180,358.44), for silviculture and reforestation ($7,546.00), and an administrative penalty ($2,350).

Files by George Henderson, My Cariboo Now

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