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article imageInterior wildfires in B.C. are hitting several industries hard

By Karen Graham     Jul 11, 2017 in Business
Over 300 wildfires burning in British Columbia's interior are now placing an economic toll on several industries, including the lumber and mining sector, forcing companies to scale back or suspend operations for the safety of their employees.
While thankfully, no deaths or serious injuries have been reported, by midday Monday, about 38,000 hectares (93,900 acres) were scorched by the unrelenting blazes, forcing 14,000 people to evacuate their homes. And by Tuesday, parts of the provincial hydro utility’s electricity grid have been damaged by the fires, reports the Global News.
BC Hydro announced today that the power outages being experienced are due to the over 170 power poles and 29 transformers that have been destroyed in the fires, with more damage expected.
Kinder-Morgan's pipeline, which runs through the central part of the province is still operating normally, although a company spokesperson says they are taking precautionary safety measures. The pipeline moves over 300,000 barrels of crude oil a day through central B.C. from the Alberta oil fields.
Williams Lake fire.
Williams Lake fire.
Danika Eats Tea
Wildfires force many lumber operations to shut down
About 30 to 40 logging operations have shut down, spanning an area from Merritt, BC and several hundred kilometers north to Chasm, BC, according to Greg Munden, the president of Munden Ventures Ltd. Munden shut down his logging and harvesting about two weeks ago because of the extreme dryness and increased fire risk.
Mr. Munden told CBC News that as of Monday, most all areas had ceased operations, including many lumber mills. U.S.Norbord Inc, North America's biggest producer of oriented strand board stopped production at its mill on 100 Mile House on Sunday. Norbord has an annual production capacity of 440 million square feet.
“We were in a zone that got evacuated Sunday night so we shut the mill down and that continues to be the situation,” Norbord Chief Financial Officer Robin Lampard said by phone Tuesday morning, according to The Globe and Mail. They did not disclose the cost per day of the shutdown.
BREAKING NEWS: 100 Mile evacuation to last at least another week.
BREAKING NEWS: 100 Mile evacuation to last at least another week.
Vernon Morning Star
Canfor Corp.’s operations are not being directly affected by the wildfires, according to a spokeswoman who responded by email. On Monday, one of Canada's largest lumber producers, West Fraser Timber Co. said they had closed three locations in BC, 100 Mile House, Williams Lake, and Chasm.
Fraser has an annual production capacity of around 800 board feet of lumber and 270 million square feet of plywood. A company spokesman said they are uncertain about how long operations will be shut down or the economic impact of the shutdown.
Tolko Industries Ltd. used its Facebook page to let everyone know that it's two Williams Lake locations, the Lakeview and Soda Creek Mills, would be shut down on Monday. Plant managers are going to be meeting daily to assess the situation and determine when they will resume operations.
Fox News
Major mining companies also impacted by wildfires
The wildfires have also caused a number of mining companies to either halt or significantly reduce operations in central BC. Imperial Metals Corp. said it has reduced operations at its open pit copper mine at Mt. Polley and its gold mine in the Williams Lake area.
EnGold Mines Ltd. said that “heavy smoke, closed roads, and intermittent power outages have made continued operations unsafe and unworkable” at its Lac La Hache site. They have suspended all exploration activity, for now, however, Taseko Mines Ltd. has kept its production at the mine it runs near one of the wildfires going at full capacity, even though some employees have been impacted by evacuation orders.
Imperial Metals Inc has significantly reduced operations at its Mt. Polley mine because of the wildf...
Imperial Metals Inc has significantly reduced operations at its Mt. Polley mine because of the wildfires in south central British Columbia.
Imperial Metals Inc.
Economic impact, or not?
While the wildfires have created a very stressful situation with the evacuations, loss of homes and property, that is bad enough. But how big an impact will the fires have on local economies or the province? Surprisingly, one expert says, "Not much."
Harry Nelson, an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia says that neither local communities or the province will feel any significant impact economically. Using Fraser Lumber as an example, Nelson says they can just ramp up production at other sites to make up for any losses.
Nelson, who teaches in the department of forest resource management at the University does caution, though that if the fires continue to grow, it will become more difficult to make up production quotas. "I think we're still aways from that, hopefully," he added.
A burnt out pick up truck is seen in the driveway of a burnt down home in the Beacon Hill neighbourh...
A burnt out pick up truck is seen in the driveway of a burnt down home in the Beacon Hill neighbourhood in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Monday, May 9, 2016
Jonathan Hayward, POOL/AFP/File
Nelson also notes that if mills are destroyed, local communities could feel the brunt of the economic losses, especially if the lumber company chooses not to rebuild. This is what happened in 2003 when the Tolko Industries sawmill in Louis Creek, B.C was lost to a fire. Tolko said at the time that economic forces were at play in making their decision to not rebuild.
Basically, the only thing to be sure of is what's going on right now. Yes, people can rebuild and recover emotionally, given time. However, it is still way too early to begin assessing the economic impacts of these fires. Remember the devastating Ft. McMurray fire last year, and look at where the community is today.
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