Wildfires burn up business for local forest industry

By on September 21, 2017
Local businesses in the forestry industry have been hit hard by B.C.’s extended wildfire season this year, with companies forced into extended shutdowns due to the fire danger. (Herald file photo).

 

This year’s wildfire season has burnt up more than just a million hectares of land.

Local forestry businesses are reporting feeling the pinch from logging operations being suspended due to a wildfire danger rating much more intense than last summer.

At Aspen Planers, planning forester Brent Turmel said the mill had to scale back logging operations due to the wildfire danger rating in the area.

“We were shut down for over two months,” said Turmel. “And not only that, but contractors [were] out of work and other contractors being on hold,” said Turmel.

According to the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, logging operations often temporarily shut down in the summer in areas of high wildfire risk.

Logging operations are restricted under the Wildfire Act, once the fire danger class rating reaches a certain level for that given geographic area.

The regulation specifies that once there has been three consecutive days of an extreme fire danger rating (rank five) all logging operations must cease until the rating falls below that level for three or more days or falls to level three. Three consecutive days of a high fire danger rating (rank four) means logging activity must cease between 1 p.m. and sunset.

Logging operations manager for Aspen Planers, Jim Harvey, said the wildfire risk cut production in half for the last two and a half months.

“Basically we were shut down all of July, August and half way through September,” said Harvey, adding that this year’s stoppage was worse than last summer as the danger rating was at extreme all summer.

“Last year was maybe only a week or so where it was at extreme, said Harvey. “It hurt a lot of the loggers and the log haulers [this year] and all the other spinoff jobs,” he said.

“We’re actually just getting back again. This last two weeks the fire weather rankings have started to come down again. They’ve come back down from five down to fours and now they’re moving from fours to threes, so we’re all gearing back up again to get back out in to logging,” said Turmel.

The Merritt area has been relatively left unscathed by wildfires this year, with large blazes popping up in other areas of the Kamloops Fire Centre, but the risk has kept local logging operations out of the woods.

One thing that helped keep business going at Aspen Planers this summer, however, was the fact the mill had a lot of logs it couldn’t move out of the forest in the spring due to how wet it was, Turmel said.

“Once it dried out we did have the ability to move some of that wood in [to the mill] through the summer,” said Turmel. “For the most part we did keep some activities going, but it wasn’t harvesting, it was just removing the timber and hauling it in,” Turmel said.

He said their inventory was depleted as a result of not being able to log and both its operations in Merritt and Lillooet had to be scaled back.

Loggers heading back to work after long summer stoppage

Harry Sandur, sales manager at NMV Lumber Ltd., said that while his business doesn’t conduct its own logging, when the larger mills can’t, it impacts small producers like his remanufacturing plant.

“When the big mills don’t get their logs, that means less production for myself,” said Sandur.

NMV takes lumber from other mills to produce smaller products that the bigger ones

“One by four is my bread and butter — it’s 99 per cent of what we do,” said Sandur.

N.M.V Lumber Ltd. has operated in Merritt since 1983 at the company’s only plant. The mill produces boards, assembled pallets and kiln sticks, and provides custom drying and planing services. (Herald files).

He said a lot of the wood NMV usually buys comes from mills in the Williams Lake area, which was hampered by fires this summer.

As a result of the difficult wildfire season, Sandur had to purchase lumber from places farther away in northern Alberta to avoid scaling back operations, but that came at a higher cost than usual.

“Our costs have increased greatly,” said Sandur, noting that shipping costs have doubled to about $2,000 per truckload buying lumber from out of province.

“The fires definitely pushed us further away to northern Alberta to bring us more stock to keep the mill running, but you’re not making money. No way,” said Sandur.

Business has also been tough for Thomson Truck Parts and Sales, which sells logging equipment.

Owner, Fred Thomson said sales have been down about 50 per cent this summer compared to last year. He said once the forest fires popped up his business took a hit, but sales are starting to turn around as logging operations get going again.

“When the forest fires hit, it really took a downturn,” said Thomson.

After a dry summer, logging operations at Aspen Planers are finally getting off the ground again, Turmel said.

“We’re actually just getting back again. This last two weeks the fire weather rankings have started to come down again. They’ve come back down from five down to fours and now they’re moving from fours to threes, so we’re all gearing back up again to get back out in to logging,” said Turmel.

The province declared a state of emergency on July 7, when wildfires in the Interior began to grow quickly in size and number. The order was extended multiple times.

Since April 1, Skrepnek said, 1,256 blazes have been reported, scorching an estimated area of 1,191,306 hectares — more than any other year on record — and running up a bill of nearly $519 million.

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