Bill from 2012 blaze totals $593,000
The costs of a fire that started at 5 Wing Goose Bay in 2012 have yet to be paid by the federal government. — TC Media file photo
Forest fires are fought for the protection of life and property, but the firefighting comes at an undeniable financial cost in the form of overtime, transportation expenses and firefighting resources.
The provincial government spent almost $593,000 fighting a fire beside Happy Valley-Goose Bay in the spring of 2012.
The federal government is responsible for covering those costs but, it has yet to pay the bill, The Telegram has learned.
The fire was accidentally set at 5 Wing Goose Bay on May 25, 2012 by two search and rescue personnel who were training with flares.
Under the forest fires liability and compensation regulations — under the Forestry Act — the province submitted an invoice to the federal government in November 2012.
The bill was obtained by The Telegram through an access to information request.
The forest fire burned until June 21, 2012, and provincial costs included: $78,500 in overtime pay, $326,000 for helicopters and $13,900 for firefighting foam.
Incidentals also played a part. For example, one emergency round of 40 Subway sub combos for on-scene firefighters was $210.
“The formal agreement (on compensation) has yet to be signed,” said Capt. Dave Bowen, the Department of National Defence’s public affairs officer for 5 Wing Goose Bay, responding to questions Monday.
“It’s still an active claim against the Crown,” Bowen had said, in response to questions last week.
From his discussions with federal lawyers, Bowen said, he does not believe an agreement is far off and the cheque would not be much longer in its delivery.
The provincial Department of Natural Resources was contacted, but no response on the status of the case was received as of press time.
“This fire was called in by the tower at the (Happy Valley-Goose Bay) airport. Several other calls reporting the fire came in immediately including the base fire station personnel and general public,” states a report on the case, concluding the fire was started by the Department of National Defence employees.
The report was completed by provincial Department of Natural Resources, but sources with the federal government have previously acknowledged its findings.
“The combination of high temperatures, low relative humidity and high winds caused the fire to move rapidly once ignition occurred,” the provincial report states.
The fire was sparked on a day where the temperature topped out at 32.6 C and winds reached 39 kilometres an hour.
The resulting flames required targeted efforts on the part of the Department of National Defence and provincial responders in order to keep the flames away from the military base and the Town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
“We increased our training when it came to the use of this kind of (pencil flare) device and the safe operation of it,” Bowen said.
“We included that in an annual brief that goes out to all Wing members who are operating in the training area.”
Meanwhile, the province has been dealing with other significant fire events this season.
In these cases, costs incurred by the Department of Natural Resources will be the responsibility of the provincial government.
Notably, two weeks into a forest fire that threatened the Town of Wabush, 50 staff members with the Department of Natural Resources were still working that fire fight. The fire near Wabush started June 23 and, as of July 9, three waterbombers, six helicopters and an incident management team were still tasked.
The fire burned through private cabins, at least 10,000 hectares of Labrador woodland, included a waterbomber crash and resulted in the evacuation of Wabush — but no lives were lost.
The total cost is not yet known.
Following on the heels of the Labrador West fire, other forest fires were reported — in the area between Churchill Falls and Happy Valley-Goose Bay, and on the island at St. John’s, Avondale, Mount Moriah and Nicky's Nose Cove.
Looking year to year, the cost of forest firefighting in the province cannot be pinned down ahead of time, according to statements made by Department of Natural Resources officials and Natural Resources Minster Tom Marshall.
Yet the budget shows a clear expectation this year’s fire season would ultimately be less costly than last year — considered unusual by government staff.
In total, “fire suppression and communications” cost about $3.7 million in 2011-12, but $7.4 million in 2012-2013. About $4.3 million was budgeted for this year.