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Forest company granted request to appeal fine for wildfire

Tolko Industries facing more $343,000 fine for cost of April 2016 wildfire near Nazko

The B.C. Court of Appeal has granted Tolko Industries Inc. its request to appeal more than $343,000 in cost-recovery fines for starting a wildfire. 

In a decision issued June 6, Justice Susan Griffin found Tolko has "met the low merits threshold of showing there are substantial issues to argue on appeal."

The development stems from an April 2016 wildfire near Nazko, in central B.C., that burned about four square kilometres after escaping from a debris pile that a contractor set on fire at a Tolko Industries cut block.

Tolko initially won an appeal through the Forest Appeals Commission, which overturned a pay order from the Cariboo Fire Centre's deputy manager in the amount of $343,495.20. The FAC concluded the company was exempt under the Wildfire Regulation because it didn't intend to start the fire and it found the blaze was a result of forestry activity. 

But in December 2022, British Columbia Supreme Court Justice Michael Brundrett upheld the fines, finding the commission made a mistake when it interpreted "fire" to mean "wildfire," separating the intentional act of starting the burn pile from the wildfire that resulted from it.

Griffin, in turn, found Tolko has "raised arguable questions" about how a section the Wildfire Regulation at centre of the matter should be interpreted and that the outcome could have significance for not only for Tolko but for "others in the forest industry more broadly."