This week the government announced that all off-road vehicles must now have a spark arrestor installed when operating on Crown land.
A spark arrestor is a small screen in the exhaust system that helps stop sparks from leaving the tailpipe.
Reacting, Williams Lake Off Road Motorcycle Association president Sasha Kokesch said he was surprised because he thought spark arrestors were already mandatory.
“At all of our events, we’ve always had rules that there be spark arrestors,” Kokesch said. “That’s why we have U.S. Forest Service approved spark arrestors for 20 years.”
Kokesch said a lot of off-road bikes come standard with spark arrestors to meet U.S. Forest Service requirements.
“The ones that don’t are like the motocross style, and there is a difference between an enduro bike and a motocross bike, but most of it has to do with lighting requirements and spark arrestors.”
Motocross bikes, meant for racing as seen on TV, do not fall under the same roles because they are normally used on a closed course and most of them don’t come with spark arrestors, Kokesch explained.
As an off-road enthusiast, he supports the need for spark arrestors and said he has witnessed an off-road vehicle igniting a fire with a spark out of its exhaust.
“It happens so easy, but I am wondering how they are going to enforce it? They don’t have enough manpower, so it’s going to come down to them setting up a road block on the road to a favourite riding area and around here there are so many places and most people just drive from their back yard.”
Kokesch said it is up to the off-road community to protect its own interests because if there is a fire attributed to an off-road vehicle areas will be closed off.
“As recreationists on Crown land we should also be stewards and looking after the areas we ride in. It’s part of our due diligence to make sure we have them because none of us wants to burn down our favourite place because of a spark that comes out of a tailpipe.”
Sparks happen because no engine runs completely clean, he added.
“Especially on two strokes because they have a little bit of oil in the gas to lubricate the internal engine components, you get a little bit of carbon build up in the exhaust system and some of that stuff is pretty hot.”
If the exhaust system is impacted, even getting bumped by a rock or a stick, there’s a huge chance that some of the buildup can break and get thrown out with the exhaust gases, he explained.
“That’s where the spark arrestors come in to play.”
Local rancher and off-road enthusiast Roger Patenaude, however, said spark arrestors are not the answer.
“It’s the header pipes that are the problem,” Patenaude said. “It’s not the sparks coming out the exhaust pipes. The header pipes are all titanium so they get really hot and red.”
“I had a fire start on my property last year in early June. It was recreational people on my private property that started the fire. They were fooling around in a swamp meadow of mine and came up on an area that I’d logged in the winter. It was dry and they had a bunch of dry grass on their header pipe that must have started it.”
The Ministry of Forests came to put the fire out and did an investigation and that’s what they determined, he added.
“The whole exhaust system has to be looked at,” Patenaude said. “These ATVs have to be limited the same as the logging industry. When the conditions get to such a point then the loggers are told to stay out of the bush and I think the ATVs need to be out of there when conditions get like that.”
Spark arrestors were good for two-cycle engines, but most everything these days is four-stroke and the problem is the exhaust pipes getting so hot.
“I’ve seen my motorbike get a piece of bark on the exhaust pipe and start smoldering,” he added.
A person found without a spark arrestor on an off-road vehicle could face a ticket fine of $460 or a penalty of up to $10,000.
And it gets worse if the vehicles cause a fire: the operator can get a ticket fine of $575, a penalty of up to $10,000, have to pay $1,000,000 in court costs, or spend up to three years in jail, as well as have to pay the firefighting costs.
The province is also boosting some of its other fines.
Failing to comply with restricted area requirements, with an order restricting an activity or use, and with an order to leave a specified area will now cost you $1,150, up from $767.
The penalty for ignoring a stop-work order has also increased to $10,000.
This story has been updated from its original version as Kokesch originally thought spark arrestors had been mandatory for 20 years, but later when he did some research discovered they were not. He later contacted the Tribune to say he stood corrected.
– With files from Katya Slepian/Black Press