A company in Taylor had its case against the local government dismissed in B.C. Supreme Court last week after it failed to prove allegations of negligence against the local fire department for failing to stop a fire that destroyed its property.
On May 5, 2014 volunteer firefighters responded to a fire burning 11 greenhouses and other buildings as well as about 35,000 Styrofoam planting blocks at Peace River Greenhouses Ltd.
They were unable to extinguish the flames and the facilities were destroyed.
Peace River Greenhouses Ltd. took the District of Taylor to court for negligence, claiming the methods used to combat the fire were inadequate and in fact caused the fire to spread.
Justice Kenneth W. Ball dismissed the case after the company failed to provide any expert testimony.
Attempts to reach representatives with Peace River Greenhouse Ltd. for comment were unsuccessful. The District of Taylor wished to consult its legal team before offering comment, but were not able to do so before deadline.
“Just because the defendant’s fire department did not extinguish the fire does not mean the defendant was guilty of negligence,” Ball wrote in his Aug. 8 decision.
“Volunteer fire departments in rural areas may experience limitations when compared to professional departments in large urban centres, which could affect the services they are able to provide. Given these potential limitations, and in the absence of…evidence, it is not possible for this Court to ascertain whether the defendant’s response to the fire was adequate.”
Peace River Greenhouses Ltd. asserted at the trial, which began April 20, 2016 and lasted for two days, that the fire department made “critical errors in judgement” by using water instead of foam on burning Styrofoam, causing the fire to spread instead of putting it out.
It also argued other factors like a lack of firefighting personnel, a shortage of trucks, water and equipment at the scene for the size of the fire, and poor fire fighting techniques and methods of suppression.
Peace River Greenhouses Ltd. however, failed to produce an expert witness to back up their claims.
The District of Taylor, represented by Vancouver-based solicitors Twining, Short & Haakonson, filed an expert’s report which showed the firefighting techniques of the volunteer department were consistent with standard practices.
“It is clear that the allegations of negligence in this case concern activities of a technical or specialized nature that fall outside the knowledge and experience of the ordinary person,” Ball wrote. “Without expert evidence respecting firefighting standards… there is no evidence upon which a reasonable and properly instructed jury could determine the standard of care the defendant was supposed to meet or find that the defendant breached that standard of care in treating the fire.”
The town moved for a no evidence motion and the case was dismissed.
A second hearing to determine who would pay the legal costs of the case was held Aug. 9. This matter has yet to be determined and will be forwarded to the Fort St. John law courts for decision.
A dinner, dance and silent auction was held in 2014 to benefit the family-owned greenhouses.
Prior to the fire, Les Shurtliff, listed as an owner of the business, provided plans to the Peace River Regional District for a proposed cogeneration waste heat recycling project at the greenhouses.
The documents listed the greenhouses gross revenue sales including beery bushes, vegetables, bedding plants and ornamental trees and shrubs at an estimated $1.9 million, with an annual net profit of $300,000.
Peace River Greenhouses Ltd. was also pursuing an exclusive contract to grow Goji Berry bushes for sale throughout the country.