Canada Dept. Will Let Houses Burn if Fees Unpaid

Property owners in central British Columbia way have to watch their homes go up in smoke if they don't comply to a new "pay-or-burn" policy, according to The Globe and Mail.

The Watch Lake-North Green Lake Volunteer Fire Department won't put out fires at addresses that haven't paid an annual fee of $160 for properties with buildings or $90 for bare land.

The 25-member department serves about 1,100 people and 532 properties.

Fire officials say about 20 percent of the properties have outstanding 2011 fees.

The policy went into effect late August, but the department still hasn't yet had a call from an owner who has not paid the fee.

The board's vice-president, Alan Boyd, told the newspaper that $13.33 or $7.50 a month isn't a huge amount.

"There's some pretty nice homes that haven't paid," he said. " It seems like a no-brainer."

Some residents say they simply refuse to pay the fee.

"We don't have a legitimate fire department," Angela Wynton said. "There's no guarantee they'll put out the fire. If we believed they would put out a fire, we would pay our dues."

She said that firefighters take 25 to 30 minutes rather than five to 10 minutes to respond to calls.

The department has an annual budget of $110,000 to $115,000 and isn't funded from property taxes as many British Columbia fire departments are.

It relies on annual payments and grants from the BC Lottery Corporation and regional government.

Boyd said that the fees charged to residents help maintain apparatus and train and outfit volunteers.

Property owners who pay the fee get a tag to attached to the exterior house number. When firefighters arrive at a property for which the fee hasn't been paid, the owner can sign a form agreeing to pay $1,000 an hour for the department to put it out.

If lives of people or animals are in danger, Boyd says the department will act, but that there's a line that has to be drawn.

"We will let the house burn," he said