03/03/2016 15:52 EST | Updated 03/04/2017 00:12 EST

Toxic 'accidental' fire in Radium Hot Springs under investigation

The province is investigating a fire in the East Kootenay village of Radium Hot Springs that burned for five days, releasing toxic smoke and forcing residents from their homes.

The fire started, Feb. 22, in a large debris pile left behind when a hotel owned by the Radium Resort company was demolished last year. 

Radium Resort managing director Gary Goetsch says workers accidentally ignited the pile. 

"These are difficult fires to extinguish, but I really believe we did everything we could that was prudent to expedite it and get it out as quickly as possible," said Goetsch.

Local New Democrat MLA Norm Macdonald said residents have been complaining about the debris pile for a while and that he brought those complaints to the government a year ago.

Macdonald says the Ministry of Environment did little to address the problem due to understaffing and only took real action once the pile started burning.

"During that time there was toxic smoke that entered the valley's air shed," Macdonald told CBC News. "People were forced to leave their homes, and it was all from debris that shouldn't have been there in the first place."

Radium Resort was issued a warning letter from the Ministry of Environment about "unauthorized discharge of demolition waste" on Dec. 17, 2015.

The letter advises the company about using an "authorized solid waste disposal facility" and asks for notification of "corrective measures" within 30 days.

Local New Democrat MLA Norm Macdonald says residents have been complaining to him about the debris pile for a while and that he brought those complaints to the government almost a year ago.

Radium Hot Springs fire chief Dave Dixon told CBC News that the village fire department was never called to the fire.

"It was a smoke management issue," said Dixon. "It was up to the land owner to put it out. We had no official involvement." 

Earlier this week Environment Minister Mary Pollock told the B.C. Legislature that the conservation officer service was investigating, and staff was taking the matter "very seriously".

Macdonald says the Alberta-based company that owns Radium Resort should be held accountable.