Telus ordered to pay $2.1 million for forest fire caused by fallen tree

Telus ordered to pay $2.1 million for forest fire caused by fallen tree

30 March 2012

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Canada — VANCOUVER — Telus must pay the B.C. government more than $2.1 million for lost timber and the cost of fighting a large forest fire after a dead tree felled one of its lines and caused the blaze during a major wind storm.

In a judgment rendered Thursday, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Loryl Russell dismissed Telus’ appeal of a Forest Appeals Board ruling that found the telecommunications company failed to remove dangerous vegetation from its right-of-way on the Chuwels Mountain Forest Service Road near Kamloops.

The fire, on July 3, 2006, destroyed more than 300 hectares of forest valued at nearly $900,000 and cost $1.2 million to put out.

Telus argued that under its licence of occupation it could not arbitrarily cut down timber without government permission. It also said the section of the provincial Wildfire Act and Regulation that governs maintenance by utility transmission operators didn’t include actual forests but rather just the lines and equipment. A contractor for the company first repaired one line break, restored power and checked for downed trees. But by the time he returned to Kamloops another tree had fallen across the line and started the fire, which quickly grew out of control.

The ministry of forests and the Forest Appeals Board both disagreed with Telus’ interpretation, saying the company had a duty to remove dangerous overhanging “snags” that could set off electrical fires. Russell sided with them, saying Telus had a duty to remove potentially dangerous vegetation along the line.

“Telus would be required to remove the trees that posed a risk to its equipment, thus causing a potential fire hazard,” she said.

“Common sense indicates that if Telus approached the ministry and the province with information of a potential forest fire hazard, permission would be readily forthcoming.”

Shawn Hall, a spokesman for Telus, said the company is considering a further appeal. He said the company’s contractor had already removed some trees, and the one that caused the fire fell from outside the right-of-way.

“In our view we had done our due diligence and this was an act of God caused by a major wind storm that felled a tree from outside the right-of-way where we don’t have the right to cut trees,” he said.

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