Williams Lake residents are trickling back into town, but, until the smoke clears, the extent of the damage this season’s fires have wrought on British Columbia’s forestry sector won’t be clear.
Major forestry-based employers in the Interior have been forced to halt operations in Chasm, 100 Mile House, Williams Lake and Quesnel due to evacuation orders and a shortage of raw materials.
“Already, the markets are responding with the perception that there are or will be lumber shortages,” said Phil Burton, a professor of forest ecology and management at the University of Northern British Columbia.
Production, harvesting halted
Production was halted Monday at Tolko’s Quest Wood mill in Quesnel, putting 200 staff out of work due to a shortage of raw materials, according to a statement on the company’s website.
“With the curtailment of Quest Wood and the closures of our Lakeview and Soda Creek mills due to the evacuation order in Williams Lake, approximately three million board feet of lumber per day has been removed from the market,” said the statement.
A number of other operations throughout the Interior have reported shutdowns or reduced operations, including four mills in Williams Lake which closed due to mandatory evacuations.
Some mills are hoping to resume operations as orders are lifted.
In Williams Lake, Tim Menning is watching his bank account as closely as the regional district’s fire updates.
He owns Hytest Timber Co., a harvesting operation that employs about 65 people. When the town was evacuated on the night of July 9, Menning stayed behind to help fight the fires and maintain his business.
“You’ve still got payments to make and facilities to maintain and essential crews to keep going,” he said, adding that about 10 of his staff are using company equipment to combat nearby fires.
Harvesting operations, like Menning’s, supply production mills with the raw material that mills planning to reopen in Williams Lake on Monday will soon need.
However, he said it’s unlikely harvesting will resume until the end of the summer, given the ongoing risk of logging equipment sparking a new fire.
“I don’t think government, or even industry for that matter, has got too much of an appetite to entertain more risk at this point,” he said. “We’ve got more than we can handle now.”
Menning estimates he will lose between $1 million and $1.5 million in revenue by the end of the month.