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Butts cause few fires

Perception does not always equal reality.

Take forest fires for example. The perception for most is human caused fires in the province mean, more often than not, a fire caused by the careless discarding of a cigarette butt from a moving vehicle or in the forest.

According to figures from the BC Wildfire Service, that couldn't be further from the truth.

At the request of Castanet News, the provincial wildfire body put together some numbers relating to the actual cause of wildfires in the province over the past 10 years.

Between 2007 and 2016, nearly 17,000 wildfires were reported in the province. Thirty-nine per cent of those, (6,657) were human caused.

Data from this year is not available yet.

Provincial fire information officer Ryan Turcot, says investigators do get a sense of the cause for most fires they respond to.

"At the very least, we are able to determine if lightning was a factor or not," said Turcot.

"Depending on the fire, and depending on the investigations, sometimes it can take a while for investigations to be complete."

Part of the reason for that, says Turcot, is there are literally hundreds of ways a human caused fire can start.

Over the past 10 years, Turcot says the use, or misuse of fires accounted for nearly one-third of all human caused wildfires.

Turcot says 20 per cent were caused by fire use, category two or three fires, while 12.5 per cent were due to escaped, or abandoned campfires.

Industrial use mounted to 15.6 per cent of human caused fires.

One of the lowest causes, he said, was the careless discarding, or extinguishing, of cigarettes or other smoking materials.

Those amounted to only about four per cent.

"Not to downplay that category, because we do want to encourage the public not to flick their cigarette butts, but the number is low," said Turcot.

"The B.C. government has campaigned aggressively over the past number of years now, not to flick your cigarette butts, or discard them in areas where it could start a fire. I do feel there is a pretty strong public backlash not to do this."

Over the past 10 years, more than half a billion dollars has been spent fighting human caused fires.

Only a fraction of the cost, just over $4 million has been recovered through the issuance of fines, many of those to companies who have caused fires.

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