The pilot of a recreational drone that forced water-bombers from smoke-filled skies around Oliver last summer was never located, but future offenders who impede forest firefighters will face higher fines.
Fines for 19 offences under the Wildfire Act, including interfering with wildfire protection efforts, are being increased to among the highest in Canada, Forests Minister Steve Thomson said Thursday.
The fine for failing to comply with fire restrictions such as campfire bans will increase from $345 to $1,150. 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.
Thomson said there are “constitutional” issues with a proposal to seize vehicles from people who toss cigarette butts out the window while driving, but the province is still considering its options.
A proposal to ban people from B.C. parks if they violate campfire restrictions is also being considered, but is not included in the current changes.
Thomson said the legislation will redefine “interference” with firefighters so it doesn’t mean intentional interference. That would apply to boaters who blocked air tankers from filling with water on Okanagan Lake, as well as the drone pilot who caused aircraft to land as vineyards, homes and a school around Oliver were threatened by fire.
Oliver Mayor Ron Hovanes the battle against two fires threatening the community last August were likely due to a recreational drone flown because “somebody just wanted a closer look.
“It was very hard to drive by the airport and see helicopters quiet on the ground, no bombers in the air, all the while people were clinging to the hope that the fire wouldn’t reach their homes, their businesses,” Hovanes said.