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B.C. resource and tourism industries braced as wildfires rip through forests


Tourists are still filling golf courses and shops in Kimberley, B.C., but the smoke-filled city's unique SunMine solar power project is operating at less than half of capacity as nearby forest fires continue to rage.

Wildfires that have destroyed thousands of hectares of trees and filled the sky with thick smoke have put companies in B.C.'s resource and tourism industries on high alert.

"Our main industry is really tourism, you know, mountain biking and hiking," said Scott Sommerville, chief administrative officer at Kimberley, which issued an evacuation alert late Thursday that remained in place on Friday afternoon.

"Downtown has been very busy ... I've heard the golf courses are very busy," he said. "Obviously, that's going to change, we're the No. 1 news story in B.C. today so that might affect tourism a little bit."

The city recently signed a letter of intent to sell the one-megawatt-capacity SunMine power plant to Teck Resources Ltd., the mining company that owns the retired mine on which it was built three years ago. The deal is to go to a referendum in October during the municipal election.

The project, B.C.'s largest solar power plant, was supposed to generate profits for the municipality but last year heavy smoke from fires meant it barely broke even and the results are expected to be the same this year given this summer's smoky conditions, Sommerville said.

About 436,000 hectares of forest have been consumed so far by the fires, said B.C. Wildfire Service chief fire information officer Kevin Skrepnek in an update conference call on Friday afternoon.

A lack of rain in weather forecasts suggest there's little hope that the fire danger will decrease over the weekend, he said.

"There are areas that are obviously curtailed for harvesting (wood) because of the wildfire conditions," said B.C. Forests Minister Doug Donaldson during the same call.

"At this point we haven't seen any curtailments as a direct result of the fire, in mills, but if the fire season persists, we likely will see an impact on log supply until we can make it safe to get back into the woods again."

Industry has been lending equipment and personnel to help build fireguards to fight the fires, he added.

Vancouver-based Conifex Timber announced on Thursday that it was temporarily shutting down operations at its mill in Fort St. James, B.C., due to an anticipated evacuation order.

In a post on its website, Vancouver-based West Fraser Timber Co. Ltd. says it will keep its B.C. lumber, pulp and panel manufacturing mills operating as long as it is safe, but advises employees to make sure their supervisors have up-to-date contact information in case they have to evacuate.

"The most important thing is the health and safety of all our West Fraser employees and their families who have been impacted by the fires in B.C.," said CEO Ted Seraphim on the site.

"This is a challenging time during which I am grateful of all the efforts of our employees who are working to protect our mills, fight forest fires and support each other."

Spokeswoman Tara Knight said all of the company's mills were still operating on Friday afternoon but it is a "dynamic situation" that requires constant monitoring.

B.C. mining operations owned by Teck are also not being impacted by the fires, said spokesman Chad Pederson on Friday, adding the company has response plans in place at all of its operations.

 

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Companies mentioned in this article: (TSX:TECK.B, TSX:WFT)

 

Dan Healing, The Canadian Press

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