Wildfires in British Columbia have forced the shutdown of several forestry operations in areas near the blazes, adding further uncertainty to an industry already hit by U.S. duties on Canadian softwood lumber.
West Fraser Timber Co. Ltd., Canada's largest forestry firm, temporarily shuttered mills at three of its locations this week, disrupting production of lumber and plywood.
West Fraser said its mills at Williams Lake, 100 Mile House, and Chasm have been closed until further notice. Tolko Industries Ltd.'s lumber operations at Williams Lake are shut down, too.
Privately-owned Tolko, led by the Thorlakson family, said it has closed its Soda Creek and Lakeview plants. "As a result of the evacuation alert currently in place, our mills will not be operating until further notice," Tolko said in a public statement to staff on Tuesday. "We encourage all employees to stay safe and to have plans in place should the situation in the community change and evacuation become necessary."
Tolko said safety remains the top priority for its workers, some of whom have been helping firefighters battle the flames. "Please stay safe and look after the needs of your family and home," said the company, whose head office is based in Vernon.
B.C. billionaire Jim Pattison owns more than 10 per cent of West Fraser and holds a 48-per-cent stake in Canfor Corp., the second-largest forestry firm in Canada. "We aren't directly impacted right now," a Canfor spokeswoman said in an e-mail on Tuesday.
Tolko, West Fraser and Canfor are among the Canadian firms that have been slapped with preliminary countervailing and anti-dumping duties on softwood lumber shipments into the United States in the long-running trade dispute.
Norbord Inc. suspended operations at its 100 Mile House mill, where it makes a product called oriented strand board.
"We note that other mills in the area (West Fraser's sawmill at 100 Mile) have been similarly affected and the current weather forecast continues to look hot and dry for the next two weeks," RBC Dominion Securities Inc. analyst Paul Quinn said in a research note.
On Tuesday, the Insurance Bureau of Canada said it will set up a mobile pavilion at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops to provide information and advice to those affected by the fire. Bureau staff will answer questions and help affected residents get in touch with their insurance companies to begin the claims process. Another unit will be set up in Prince George this week, the bureau said.
Last year's total Canadian insurance damages came in at a record amount owing to the Fort McMurray wildfires that resulted in $3.7-billion in insured damages – twice the amount as the previous most-expensive natural disaster on record. The Conference Board of Canada has estimated governments will also be on the hook for another $1.5-billion in firefighting, relief and rebuilding costs for the Fort McMurray and area fires.
Nearly 2,000 homes and businesses were destroyed by the May fire in northern Alberta last year. The insurance bureau said 87 per cent of all insurance claims for the Fort McMurray disaster have now been closed.
Late Tuesday, Kinder Morgan Inc. said it is monitoring the wildfire situation near the Trans Mountain pipeline station close to Blackpool, B.C. but there is no immediate threat. The fire is 16 kilometres away from the pipeline right-of-way, the company said.
"Trans Mountain closely monitors any wildfires near our existing pipeline and associated facilities to determine the potential for any impacts," said the release from Hugh Harden, chief operating officer for Kinder Morgan Canada. "At a number of locations we are taking preventative measures which include removing vegetation to create a fire break and adding sprinklers to keep the areas wet."