West Kelowna  

Police investigate illegal removal of trees in Traders Cove during wildfire

Tree removal investigated

A Traders Cove resident is on a mission to hold accountable whoever cut down a group of trees on his property during last summer’s wildfire evacuation.

Stu Morgan lives at the end of Heldon Court and lost his home to the McDougall Creek wildfire in August.

When he and his family were finally allowed back into the neighbourhood to survey the damage, they were shocked to see several trees on their property had been felled across their driveway and onto power lines.

While Morgan’s home burned down, the downed trees were in an area not impacted by fire. A number of other trees nearby were also improperly marked with a “K” for removal.

“It is extremely obvious that the trees were chopped down to improve the lake view of certain residences on the block, and one home in particular,” said Morgan.

“When we were allowed back to our property, we couldn't even get three feet down our driveway, because of the way the trees were cut down.”

He said numerous calls to emergency response crews, the fire department, BC Hydro and FortisBC all came back with similar responses along the lines of “we would never cut a tree across someone's property onto power lines and leave it there.”

“First of all it's not professional, and two, it’s dangerous. So that was our first clue that something was completely wrong with the picture," he said.

Regional District of Central Okanagan chief bylaw officer Dan Maja says he attended the scene, but found that the trees were cut down on private property or the Ministry of Transportation’s right of way.

That makes the situation a matter for the courts or police, not bylaw.

“If trees are cut down on private property, it's a civil matter,” Maja said.

“They need to determine who cut them down. And then and then that would have to go through the courts to get restitution.”

“That's going to be the biggest challenge here. Because who knows who cut the trees down there,” Maja said, suggesting a number of agencies could have been operating in the area, in addition to the possibility of bad actors.

Morgan, however, says the time frame that the trees were toppled means there were only emergency crews were allowed to be in the area. The fire moved through the neighbourhood on a Thursday night and the trees had fallen by the following Wednesday.

“Whoever committed this disgusting crime had to have access to the area during the lockdown after evacuation,” he said.

When contacted for comment, the Kelowna RCMP confirmed they received a report on the situation but said the file was closed and declined to say anything further.

Morgan says the police have since reopened the file and assigned it to a new officer, who will be attending the scene this weekend to gather evidence.

While the trees also hold up the embankment along Morgan’s driveway, they are more important than that.

“Because we've lost everything, the trees represent to us, our memories,” he said. “That's where my kids grew up riding their bikes, that's our driveway that my kids learned to walk on… to lose those trees is like losing part of our family.”

Anyone with information on who may have removed the trees is asked to contact the RCMP and cite file number 23-57137.

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