INITIALLY PUBLISHED IN Madison’s Lumber Reporter July 14, 2017:
Weather experts in western Canada have deemed wildfire season in British Columbia this year as “hazard index high” explained wildfire ecologist Robert Gray to Madison’s Thursday in a phone interview. The weather service expects this hot, dry weather pattern will likely hold for 10 – 12 weeks.
“This year is shaping up like 2003,” detailed Gray.
In 2003 was the catastrophic wild re which was extremely damaging to the town of Kelowna, BC, and which actually melted the Tolko sawmill at Barriere, BC. That mill was never rebuilt.
WILDFIRE SEASON 2017
As of Friday morning the number of wildfires in British Columbia was reduced to over 100, from almost 200 earlier in the week.
A media representative at BC Ministry of Forests replied to Madison’s by email Thursday, that so far, the fires have burned over 111,251 hectares, “but we don’t yet know how much of that is timber harvesting land base.”
West Fraser Timber, Tolko Industries, and oriented-strand-board manufacturer Norbord are among the companies that have suspended operations at mills in and around 100 Mile House and Williams Lake, BC, with 1,000 employees from West Fraser alone off work due to the closures, said the Vancouver Sun Wednesday.
Tolko also indefinitely suspended operations at its two Williams Lake sawmills releasing employees to look after their families while the town remains under evacuation alert.
As well, about 30 to 40 logging companies spanning from Merritt, BC, to several hundred kilometres north in Williams Lake have also shut down harvesting operations, according to GlobalNews Monday.
The fire response in BC is starting to include industrial crews, explained Gray.
“Heavy mechanical equipment for forest firefighters is starting to arrive [at the worst-hit] locations,” said Gray. “We may see forest shutdowns [to the public], if the provincial re rating is high enough the province could put in a fire ban.”
This would be in addition to the usual summer bans for industrial equipment — specifically timber harvesting — during the hottest weeks of the summer.
Gray likened conditions in this year’s re season to the catastrophic 2003 re around Kelowna, BC.
“The wet winter this year combined with very hot weather coming on quickly has resulted in heavy fuels in the forest, which have long burnout times.”
In 2003, wildfires in the province cost the B.C. economy $1.3 billion in direct fire suppression costs and indirect economic losses, according to a paper by the provincial Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.
The difference this year is that the worst fires so far are located not at a big town but where there are many wood production facilities.
In addition is the bad timing, as these are the very two weeks that the Quebec forest industry takes it’s annual two-week summer shutdown. Most players will have ordered wood for their needs in advance of these usual closures, but the coincidence with BC wildfires this week could cause a perception of looming shortage of supply.
With the recent dimension framing softwood lumber price volatility due to countervailing and anti-dumping imposed by the US this year, even a perception of threat to supply could cause lumber and especially panel prices to rise. Possibly in the short term, or even further out through summer as US home building activity continues muted but improving.