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Nine people fined for bonfire on island off Sunshine Coast over the long weekend

Jennifer Saltman, Vancouver Sun

File photo of a bonfire. (Tatanata/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

File photo of a bonfire. (Tatanata/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

It was an expensive B.C. Day long weekend for a group of campers who were fined more than $10,000 for having what police called “a rather large bonfire” on tiny Home Island, off the Sunshine Coast.

Residents from Keats Island spotted the fire early Monday morning and made their way over to Home Island — which is off the southern tip of Keats — to speak with the people responsible.

“It didn’t go so well,” said Sunshine Coast RCMP Sgt. Mike Hacker. “The people were really belligerent, I guess, in the exchange.”

The incident was reported by an off-duty firefighter and two Mounties responded around 2 a.m. using an RCMP boat from Gibsons. Hacker said the officers had an equally unproductive exchange with the people around the fire.

“Home Island is not a big island — it’s a rather small island — so I would suggest they felt that going over to a small little island like that was going to be fairly self contained, and there wasn’t going to be a problem,” Hacker said.

As a result of the exchange, the officers issued nine violation tickets — one for each person present. He said alcohol was a factor in the incident.

Open fires and camp fires are currently banned throughout B.C. A ticket for “lighting, fuelling or use of fire against regulations” carries a fine of $1,150.

“It’s rather substantial,” said Hacker. “It’s not a tiny, little fine.”

Those enforcing fire bans — including the RCMP, conservation officers, natural resource officers and officials from the B.C. Wildfire Service — have the ability to fine everyone present at an illegal fire, but Hacker said, “by no means is that usual.”

Hacker said Sunshine Coast RCMP have issued two or three other tickets to people contravening fire bans since they came into effect on the coast in early July.

“It’s pretty dry here even on the Sunshine Coast where we get a significant amount of rain. We haven’t had rain in probably two months, if not a little more, so it’s pretty dry out there and certainly having any kind of open fire or otherwise can be highly problematic, especially if it gets away from you.”

Nicole Gagnon, a fire information officer with the Coastal Fire Centre, said that weather across the region is hot and dry and there is no rain in the forecast, so having any kind of fire is risky, no matter how isolated or safe you think you are.

“A lot of thought and process goes into putting on open fire prohibitions so when it is put on we do ask the public to follow those,” Gagnon said.

Her thoughts were echoed by B.C. Wildfire Service’s chief fire information officer Kevin Skrepnek, who urged the public to be cautious and vigilant while respecting the burning prohibitions in place.

As of Tuesday afternoon, there were 146 wildfires burning across B.C., 17 of which started on Monday. Most of those that started on Monday were caused by lightning in the southeast and northeast of the province.

One of the largest fires continues to be the Elephant Hill wildfire near Clinton, which has burnt 1,100 square kilometres and is 30 per cent contained.

There are 3,700 personnel fighting wildfires across B.C., including 800 people from out of province and more than 1,400 from the forestry industry.

There are 32 evacuation orders in effect, impacting just under 7,000 people, and 47 evacuation alerts affecting more than 25,000 people.

Since April 1, 931 wildfires have burned an estimated 6,040 square kilometres of land. It’s believed that 507 of those fires were caused by lightning and 364 were caused by humans. The rest are under investigation. The cost to date to fight the fires is $243 million.