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No charges to be laid in B.C.'s 2017 Elephant Hill wildfire: Wildfire Service

VANCOUVER — The British Columbia Wildfire Service has officially released the cause of a 2017 blaze that eventually charred a huge area of trees and bush in the southern Interior and forced thousands to evacuate.

VANCOUVER — The British Columbia Wildfire Service has officially released the cause of a 2017 blaze that eventually charred a huge area of trees and bush in the southern Interior and forced thousands to evacuate.

Following an extensive investigation, the wildfire service says the Elephant Hill fire — sparked just south of Ashcroft on July 6, 2017 — was most likely caused by smoking or smoking materials ranging from matches to cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco or marijuana.

A statement from the wildfire service says its investigation into the cause of the fire that burned 1,918 square kilometres of trees and bush and forced the evacuation of the entire community of Cache Creek, was completed in the fall of 2017.

The report was included as part of a larger RCMP probe and, with the recent conclusion of that investigation, the wildfire service says it could release its findings.

But it says neither it nor the RCMP uncovered sufficient evidence to identify the person whose actions led to what became the largest blaze of the 2017 wildfire season.

Without that evidence, the statement says no charges will be laid and it won't be possible to pursue cost recovery for damages caused by the fire, so the wildfire service is concluding its work and no further action related to the Elephant Hill fire will be taken. 

In September 2019, RCMP Sgt. Janelle Shoihet said the wildfire investigation had been complex and lengthy.

She said the details had been forwarded to the BC Prosecution Service, which would make the final decision about whether charges might be appropriate.

Crews were able to steer the fire away from Cache Creek, but dozens of properties close to the fire's origin were destroyed on the Ashcroft Indian Reserve and in Boston Flats. More properties were lost as far north as the Pressy Lake area, east of 70 Mile House, before the flames were contained about two months later.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published May 4, 2020

The Canadian Press