A judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by the B.C. government against Canadian Forest Products and one of its contractors over a 6,100-hectare forest fire on Crown lands near Vanderhoof in 2010.
The province alleged that Canfor and the subcontractor, Barlow Lake Logging, were negligent in the blaze, which began on a cutblock granted by the government to Canfor that was being logged under contract by Barlow.
The government claimed that the fire, which resulted in the province sustaining $5.5 million in damages, was likely caused by one of the feller buncher vehicles operating on the cutblock on June 18, 2010.
At trial, it argued that sawdust or other flammable debris could have gathered in or near exhaust components of the vehicle and then dislodged onto the forest floor, which began smouldering before igniting.
The defendants argued that the government had not proven its case and the evidence established it was at least as likely that the fire was caused by lightning.
In a ruling released Friday, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Bruce Greyell said he found the evidence of the Barlow and Canfor employees to be consistent and credible, and dismissed the government’s claims.
“In my view, the province has not established that it is more likely than not that the fire started as a result of the operation of (the cutblock),” Greyell said. “In my view there is a fair inference to be drawn that the fire was a holdover fire which was the result of lightning on the evening of June 17.”
The judge also found that a fire watcher could not have extinguished, contained or reported the fire in a way that would have eliminated or significantly reduced the damages to the government.
“While Canfor and Barlow may have been in breach of the regulation for failure to post a fire watcher, I conclude that this breach was not the cause of the damage incurred by the province. I find neither is liable in negligence to the province,” Greyell said.
In a counterclaim, Canfor argued that the province was negligent in failing to devote available resources to fighting the fire, but the judge dismissed those arguments.
“I find proper resources were available and were devoted to fight the fire on the evening of June 18, 2010. The province responded promptly when it was notified by the spotter plane of the fire.”
The $5.5 million in damages sustained by the province consisted of fire suppression costs, replanting and reforestation costs, lost stumpage revenue for harvested timber and lost value to immature timber.