Almost one year after being extinguished, the August 2020 Snake Trail fire has finally had its cost resolved.
Since the fire had no known source and originated in the MD right of way, council unanimously voted in favour of writing off the firefighting expenses during the June 8 council meeting. The amount totalled $64,270 and was originally invoiced to affected residents.
Landowners and fire crews initially responded to the blaze, but the majority of the cost resulted from firefighters needing to return for several days afterwards to put out hot spots.
With the Snake Trail fire originally saddling one landowner with over $52,000 in firefighting costs, the MD and the Pincher Creek Emergency Services Commission were prompted to review firefighting fees and the present billing structure. PCESC currently bills municipalities for firefighting services, who pay the cost and then invoice residents for the amount.
Council had discussed writing off the bill earlier this year but held off making a decision until the Snake Trail invoice was reviewed. Deciding to foot the bill, says Reeve Brian Hammond, was ultimately the right choice.
“I really believe we made the right decision,” he says. “It went on way too long, but there were other things going on. That’s the frustrating thing about politics — there are always considerations from other parties behind the scene.”
The MD is moving ahead with the PCESC to change the billing structure to be more fair and equitable, particularly so individual residents aren’t left with enormous bills for fires they did not start.
“For the most part, people have no control over lightning striking the property or some fool going along the road with a cigarette and throwing it out and starting a fire,” Reeve Hammond says.
“If there’s anything good from the [Snake Trail] situation, I think we’ve got a plan going forward with how we’re going to deal with those kinds of events.”
Changes to the fee schedule for determining firefighting expenses are also being looked at, though a motion from the June 22 minutes for a special Pincher Creek town council meeting states discussion on fees will be deferred until after the upcoming municipal election.
Municipalities are legally required to provide fire services to property owners; how they meet that responsibility is up to each jurisdiction. Reeve Hammond says the general direction the MD wants to move is to a structure where residents share the burden of cost collectively so individuals aren’t stuck with an overwhelmingly high firefighting bill.
“Many have described those numbers as needing changes,” he adds. “We’re working very hard on that.”
Sean Oliver, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze