A man who was caught throwing a Molotov cocktail in a tinder-dry forested West Kelowna neighbourhood is off to a recovery program following an 11-month stint in prison.
Steven Leader pleaded guilty to a single count of committing an act intended to cause an explosion likely to cause serious bodily harm or death or serious damage to property, according to the BC Prosecution Service.
“The act was throwing a Molotov cocktail in a forested area. He was sentenced that day to a conditional sentence of 223 days, followed by three years of probation. He is also prohibited from possessing firearms for 10 years,” a representative from the BC Prosecution Service said.
He had been in custody for 11 months prior to being sentenced for the July 11, 2021 incident.
Jason Brolund, the West Kelowna fire chief, addressed the court during last week’s sentencing hearing and said he believed the judge’s decision was fair given the gravity of the crime.
“It was noted on a number of occasions today that what this was about was deterrence and having the community know that,” he said.
“As a community, we won’t stand for fires that can be prevented. And I think that message came across a lot clearer today.”
When Leader decided to throw his Molotov cocktail, B.C. was in the throes of what’s been characterized as one of the worst environmental disasters in its history. Record-high temperatures had set off a series of crises, not the least of which was the razing of Lytton.
“We’d just seen the community of Lytton get destroyed by wildfire, we were in the midst of unprecedented heat dome, our fire danger was extreme, and we were called for a wildfire in the Glenrosa neighbourhood,” Brolund said outside the courthouse after Leader was sentenced.
When news broke that a man was trying to spark a fire in the neighbourhood, Brolund said the fire department rushed to the scene, knowing what was at stake, but found neighbours had taken actions on their own accord to put the fire out.
But they shouldn’t have had to, he indicated.
“This fire was 100 per cent preventable. It didn’t have to happen. The judge did a great job of recognizing that and making it very clear in his sentencing,” Brolund said.
“It was clear to me that he understood the impact this had on the residents of the community — those who live in Glenosa, in particular.”
He said the sentence also reflects how the fire affected the fire department, knowing they had to send resources to deal with a preventable fire while putting other areas of the community potentially at risk during that time.
It also serves as a reminder that we are headed into fire season again, and vigilance makes a difference.
A video of the incident was widely shared on Facebook in the aftermath. It shows a shirtless man, now identified as Leader, walking along a steep, bush-covered hill behind a home in West Kelowna.
The camera follows the person, who can later be seen bending down and picking up a burning object, then walking with it.
Not much can be seen in the next few seconds, because of foliage, but it becomes apparent the burning object is thrown or tossed into the bush.
The camera then pans for the man, who can be seen walking up a hill.