Some of the trees burned by the Elephant Hill wildfire. (File photo)

2017 Elephant Hill wildfire most likely caused by smoking materials

Investigation did not identify who started the fire

An investigation into the 2017 Elephant Hill wildfire has determined smoking materials to be the most likely cause, according to the BC Wildfire Service.

The wildfire started on July 6, 2017, about 2.5 kilometres southeast of Ashcroft. It eventually burned 191,865 hectares in B.C.’s south-central Interior region, including parts of both the Kamloops Fire Centre and Cariboo Fire Centre. It destroyed 45 homes in Boston Flats, 40 in Loon Lake and 33 in the Pressy Lake area among others. In total, 130 homes were lost to the fire in the Thompson-Nicola Regional District.

“The BC Wildfire Service’s fire origin and cause specialists investigated the Elephant Hill wildfire, and their report indicated that the most likely cause of the Elephant Hill wildfire was smoking or smoking materials. The ‘smoking materials’ classification includes matches, cigars, pipe tobacco, cigarettes and/or marijuana,” according to a release by the BC Wildfire Service.

Lightning, an escaped campfire, category 2 to 3 burning or Resource Open Fire Activity, arson, equipment use, railroads, vehicles and electrical transmission/a utility line were all eliminated as potential causes.

The BC Wildfire Service’s origin and cause report was completed in fall 2017 but part of a larger RCMP investigation into the wildfire. The BC Wildfire Service is sharing it now because the RCMP investigation recently concluded.

“The BC Wildfire Service and RCMP investigations did not uncover sufficient evidence to identify the person whose actions started the Elephant Hill wildfire. Therefore, it was not possible to lay charges or pursue cost recovery for damages caused by this fire. The BC Wildfire Service’s investigation into the Elephant Hill wildfire is now complete and no further action will be taken at this time.”

In September 2019, RCMP announced they concluded their investigation into the wildfire and that they had turned the file over to the BC Prosecution Service (BCPS).

“They have to review all the investigative findings and see what charges would be appropriate. We’re committed that if they need further information, we’ll provide that as they move forward,” said RCMP Staff Sgt. Janelle Shoihet at the time.

The BC Prosecution Service (BCPS) confirmed that no charges have been approved following a review of the Report to Crown Counsel (RCC) submitted by the RCMP in relation to the Elephant Hill wildfire, says Dan McLaughlin, communications counsel for the BCPS.

The BCPS applies a two-part test to determine whether charges will be approved, and a prosecution initiated. There must be a substantial likelihood of conviction based on the evidence gathered by the investigating agency; and, the public interest must require a prosecution, says McLaughlin.

Under BCPS policy, a substantial likelihood of conviction exists when Crown Counsel is satisfied there is a strong, solid case of substance to present to the court. To reach this conclusion, a prosecutor will consider what evidence is likely to be admissible and available at trial; the objective reliability of the admissible evidence; and whether there are viable defences or other legal or constitutional impediments to the prosecution that remove any substantial likelihood of conviction.

“In this case, the BCPS was not satisfied that the test was met on the available evidence and no charges have been approved.”


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