British Columbia officials say they will investigate after photos were posted to social media that depicted uniformed firefighters around a roaring campfire – despite a widespread ban due to high-risk wildfire conditions.
The photos, which were posted on Tuesday night on a public Facebook page for residents of Clearwater, B.C., show at least five people standing around a lakeside campfire at dusk. The patch of B.C.'s Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations is clearly identifiable on the arms of their red uniforms – as are a few faces and licence plates.
Rusty Clark, who told The Globe and Mail he took and posted the photos on Tuesday night, asked others in the group to report the firefighters, as he was having issues with his phone.
"They're at Gordon Bay on Adams Lake with a big campfire thinking that it's OK!" Mr. Clark wrote. "Our own firefighters."
The Gordon Bay recreational site is about a 2.5-hour drive northeast of Kamloops.
Mr. Clark said he was "shocked" to come across the scene.
"I grew up at this lake and it's in my backyard," he told The Globe. "I would hate to see this go up in flames."
Kevin Skrepnek, B.C.'s chief fire information officer, said the ministry learned of the photos on Tuesday night.
"The ministry is taking the matter very seriously, I think that's needless to say," Mr. Skrepnek said. "We are going to be investigating. There is an open burning and campfire ban across the … province and that ban applies to everyone."
Mr. Skrepnek said on Wednesday afternoon he was not yet sure if those pictured had been identified.
Most people who commented before the post was taken down were critical of the firefighters. However, a few defended them, saying they are hard-working and know better than anyone how to safely extinguish a fire.
The province declared a state of emergency because of the wildfires on Friday. As of Wednesday, after a day of relatively mild weather, 183 fires burned across the province. Since the beginning of the wildfire season on April 1, 602 fires have burned an estimated 78,000 hectares, Mr. Skrepnek said.
About 14,000 people remained out of their homes due to evacuation orders in several communities, and thousands more, including the entire city of Williams Lake, remain under alert to leave.
B.C.'s campfire ban was extended this week to include most of the province, with the exception of Haida Gwaii and a narrow strip on the west coast of Vancouver Island referred to as the "fog zone." Fire officials have said a provincewide campfire ban is rare, underscoring how much of B.C. is at risk.
Historically, about 60 per cent of wildfires are caused by lightning and 40 per cent by humans. The worst year for human-caused fire was 2011, when 68 per cent of fires were caused by people; last year, it was 54 per cent.
B.C. has stepped up enforcement in recent years and introduced stiffer fines.
Last year, the fine for ignoring fire restrictions, such as campfire bans, jumped to $1,100 – an increase of 218 per cent. Failing to properly dispose of burning substances, such as cigarette butts, now carries a ticket of $575.
Hot, dry conditions are expected to continue across southern B.C. this week. Robert Turner, assistant deputy minister at Emergency Management B.C., said 150 fire departments across the province have offered assistance to date, with 22 already having deployed.