Judge rules lightning, not contractor’s equipment, started fire in British Columbia

Greer Fire
Greer Fire, June 22, 2010. Photo by B.C. Wildfire Service.

A British Columbia Supreme Court judge has ruled that the Greer Fire, a 2010 wildfire southeast of Vanderhoof, started from lightning, not a timber harvesting company’s feller buncher as claimed by the government. The Province sued two companies including Canfor, which then countersued, alleging that the B.C. government “did not take sufficient action to suppress or extinguish” the wildfire.

The fire burned 6,100 hectares (15,073 acres), required 30 households to evacuate, and cost $5.5 million including suppression, reforestation, and lost wood taxes.

Below are excerpts from an article at straight.com:

“Canfor has not established the Province’s conduct in fighting the Fire constituted a substantial departure from the basic principles of firefighting,” Greyall wrote in his decision.

According to the ruling, “a one-hour fire watch was not conducted as required”.

“The Province argues a fire watcher, properly conducting his or her duties under theRegulation, would have been able to utilize Barlow’s resources to extinguish or at least control the Fire on the afternoon of June 18 and to report it to the Ministry such that it would been actioned earlier and would not have spread,” Greyall wrote.

However, the judge concluded that the province failed to prove that the fire would have been discovered and reported “prior to the expiry of the fire watch period” had a fire watch taken place.

In court, the province maintained there was “strong circumstantial evidence” that the fire was started by the use of a fire buncher and that the operator failed to remain with his equipment after turning off the engine.

The province also claimed that “sawdust or other flammable forest debris” were dislodged from the machine into the forest floor, causing the fire.

The defendants pointed to lightning as the likely cause, with Barlow employees saying they saw a bolt during heavy rainfall around 5 p.m.

“I find the evidence of the Barlow and Canfor employees to be consistent and credible,” Greyall wrote. “The issue of lightning on the Cut Block was reported to Ministry investigators during the course of their investigation within days of the Fire.”

The article does not mention any physical evidence of a lightning-struck object or data from an electronic lightning detection system.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

One thought on “Judge rules lightning, not contractor’s equipment, started fire in British Columbia”

  1. Thanks for the post,

    To an extent, wild fires are a good thing for the Earth’s natural process. It’s hard for me to accept that, but it’s a bit easier when it at least isn’t human-caused, you know? It makes me feel much worse that way. Anyways, I hope they can find some evidence soon!



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