Wildfire Investigations

Wildfire investigations often take time to complete and can be very complex. Investigations may be carried out by one or more agencies, including the BC Wildfire Service, the Compliance and Enforcement Branch, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) or other law enforcement agencies, and some investigations may be cross-jurisdictional. Publicly releasing information about this work before the cause of a wildfire has been determined could jeopardize the investigation. Therefore, information regarding the cause of a wildfire will not be released until the investigation is complete.

BC Wildfire Service investigations

BC Wildfire Service staff conduct wildfire origin and cause determinations, in accordance with internationally recognized scientific standards and protocols. BC Wildfire Service fire “origin and cause” specialists are specifically trained to examine fire behavior, fire ignition sources, fire ignition factors, burn patterns and other physical evidence, to determine where a wildfire started and to identify the probable cause. This can be as simple as locating a lightning strike or can be a more complex investigation to determine the origin of a human-caused incident.

An investigation may result in the elimination of potential causes of ignition, such as:

  • lightning;
  • escaped campfires;
  • escaped Category 2, Category 3 or Resource Management Open Fires;
  • arson or fires of a suspicious nature;
  • juvenile fire setter/fire use;
  • equipment use;
  • railroads;
  • vehicles;
  • electrical transmission or utility infrastructure; or
  • smoking materials (matches, cigars, pipe tobacco, cigarettes and/or marijuana).

If the BC Wildfire Service fire origin and cause specialists conclude that a wildfire was human-caused, the file is then referred to Natural Resource Officers from the Compliance and Enforcement Branch.

Compliance and Enforcement Branch investigations

Natural Resource Officers conduct thorough investigations that involve collecting evidence and compiling witness statements. When a wildfire is determined to be human-caused, Natural Resource Officers determine whether the incident was due to non-compliance with the Wildfire Act or the Wildfire Regulation. Natural Resource Officers also complete a detailed damage assessment, which outlines the cumulative impacts of the wildfire on the land base. This report is based on an assessment of damage to: grasslands; public values (such as wildlife habitat or water quality); and lost timber revenue potential. A number of factors are considered when determining the amount of any penalty.

Arson cases

Natural Resource Officers have the authority to investigate wildfires suspected to have been deliberately set with the intention of doing damage (i.e. arson). Natural Resource Officers can decide to involve the RCMP and other law enforcement agencies as required, if the wildfire was started under suspicious or criminal circumstances.

Violation tickets and cost recovery

In an effort to protect communities, natural resources and infrastructure from wildfire damage, the B.C. government takes a tough stand on irresponsible behaviour that contributes to increased wildfire risks.

For example, anyone found in contravention of an open burning prohibition may be issued a violation ticket for $1,150, required to pay an administrative penalty of up to $10,000 or, if convicted in court, fined up to $100,000 and/or sentenced to one year in jail. A list of some Wildfire Act and Wildfire Regulation fines can be found here.

If a person contravenes applicable legislation, they may be ordered to pay for: wildfire control costs; damage to Crown forests and other forest or land resources; and/or reforestation of the damaged area. In addition, they may be ordered to pay fines or administrative penalties.

The government may order an owner of private land who causes or contributes to the start of a wildfire to pay for wildfire control costs, damages to Crown resources, and reforestation costs. In such cases, the BC Wildfire Service will pursue the recovery of wildfire control costs and related costs from the people responsible.

Issuing violation tickets

Natural Resource Officers and Conservation Officers can issue violation tickets for fire-related infractions or prosecute more serious violations through administrative and/or judicial processes. The RCMP is also authorized to issue violation tickets for fire-related infractions.

How to report a Natural Resource Violation

Submitting a Natural Resource Violation report provides information to the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD) alleging that an unauthorized activity (a contravention of the law) has occurred or is about to occur, or a contravention of an authorization (licence, lease, etc.) has occurred.

If you have information about the origin of a wildfire or see someone violating a regulation, call the Natural Resource Violation reporting line at 1 877 952-7277 or fill out an online Natural Resource Violation Report here.