Carr Calls Filmon’s Error “Highly Suspicious”

Straight Talk
Carr Calls Filmon’s Error “Highly Suspicious”
By charlie smith
Publish Date: 1-Apr-2004

A Kelowna engineering technologist has told the Straight that he repeatedly tried to tell provincial officials last summer that his infrared technology would have enabled forest firefighters to see the Okanagan Park fire through the smoke.

Curtis Bennett, owner of Thermografix Consulting Corp., said if his technology was used, firefighters might have had more success fighting the blaze, which destroyed more than 200 homes in Kelowna.

Last summer, provincial officials said in several media briefings that heavy smoke hampered efforts to fight the fire.

Bennett told the Straight that after the fire started, he contacted local Liberal MLA John Weisbeck, Forests Minister Mike de Jong’s office, the fire command team, the Kelowna fire department, and the provincial fire commissioner’s office, all to no avail.

“Our [provincial] fire budget was $58 million,” Bennett said. “We spent half a billion, yet fought it blind.”

The Ministry of Forests and Kelowna assistant fire chief Steve Kinsey did not return calls from the Straight by deadline. Bennett said that Edmonton’s fire department began using his technology 10 years ago.

On August 22, Bennett added, he was on an Okanagan Lake beach taking pictures of the fire through the smoke when Premier Gordon Campbell and his entourage arrived to speak to the media. “The premier came over, looked at the fire through the smoke, and said ‘Wow,’ ” Bennett recalled.

Bennett said he told Campbell’s press aide that the provincial government wasn’t using his technology and passed along a business card. Bennett’s pictures later appeared in Kelowna newspapers, but he said the technology was never used by fire crews. “I volunteered my services,” he said. “We could have given those guys immediate sight.”

Bennett also said that on November 26, he told this tale at a Kelowna public hearing held by the Firestorm 2003 Review Team, chaired by former Manitoba premier Gary Filmon.

Filmon’s report did not mention Bennett on its lengthy list of presenters. The report also didn’t comment on the application of infrared technology to fighting forest fires.

“It’s irresponsible and it’s unacceptable,” Bennett said. “There is not one reference to this technology, but he does talk about sprinklers on roofs.”

Green Party of B.C. leader Adriane Carr told the Straight that the “omission” of Bennett’s presentation from the Filmon report is “highly suspicious”. Carr added that she thinks it warrants further investigation.

“The province probably has some concerns about liability on all of this,” Carr said. “But I think the public needs to know, and the government needs to be pushed on making sure it not only did but will in the future do everything possible to avoid any loss.”

Filmon told the Straight that he recalls Bennett’s presentation and thought the technology was interesting. He said Bennett wasn’t taped because of a “technical glitch” and that’s why he wasn’t mentioned in the report.

“I had no motivation to cover up anything,” Filmon said. “Certainly something like this did not represent negligence or liability.”

Filmon said that promoters of many products made presentations. He added that the Ministry of Forests would have had to test each one before he could make any judgments.