Wildfire investigations

BC Wildfire Service investigations
Wildfire investigations can be complex and may take weeks or even months to complete. The BC Wildfire Service works closely with other agencies to ensure high-quality results. Information about the cause of a wildfire will not be released until an investigation is complete.

Who conducts wildfire investigations?

Wildfire investigations may be conducted by one agency, or several agencies working together. In B.C., the following agencies may be involved:

  • BC Wildfire Service
  • Compliance and Enforcement Branch (CEB)
  • Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP)
  • Other law enforcement agencies

The BC Wildfire Service employs specially trained staff called "Fire Origin and Cause Specialists" to lead investigations and coordinate with other agencies.

What do investigators look for?

To determine the cause of a wildfire, investigators look for evidence about how, when and where the fire started. This might be as simple as locating a tree that was struck by lightning. Other times, the cause is unclear. Investigators may look for:

  • Ignition sources
  • Burn patterns
  • Physical evidence
  • Weather history
  • Witness statements
  • Other evidence

When are other agencies involved?

The BC Wildfire Service works with other agencies when a wildfire is determined to be human-caused. Partner agencies have different levels of authority and specialized staff. 

Natural Resource Officers conduct the following tasks to produce thorough reports:

  • Compiling witness statements
  • Collecting physical evidence
  • Conducting damage assessment (including damage to to land, habitat, water, timber and more)
  • Applying legislation (i.e. the Wildfire Act )

Natural Resource Officers may involve the RCMP or other law enforcement agencies in cases involving suspicious or criminal factors. For example, if a fire is set to intentionally cause damage (called "arson") it would be referred to law enforcement. 

Violation tickets and cost recovery

The government of B.C. takes a tough stand against behaviour that causes wildfire. Natural Resource Officers may issue monetary penalties in the form of tickets. Some cases may be referred to higher courts. Persons or companies found in contravention may be ordered to pay for:

  • Wildfire control costs
  • Damage to natural lands and resources
  • Reforestation costs
  • Other penalties 

A list of possible fines and penalties can be found here.