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Wildfires hamper getting inventory to local mills

Getting inventory to mills in Williams Lake continues to be a concern for local companies as the wildfire season unfolds.
Williams Lake Plywood plant manager Dave Walgren said the company has been bringing logs to the plant from east of 100 Mile House and west of Williams Lake but with logging shut down since July 7 due to wildfires, everyone is working to make sure there is enough inventory. Monica Lamb-Yorski photo.

Getting inventory to mills in Williams Lake continues to be a concern for local companies as the wildfire season unfolds.

Since July 7, logging operations have been shut down in the Cariboo-Chilcotin due to the fire danger risk, but before that, said Williams Lake Plywood Plant manager Dave Walgren, inventory was already low, something that is normal during the summer months.

“We have been getting logs from Quesnel, from out west and from east of 100 Mile House,” Walgren told the Tribune. “The advantage of being a larger company is that it can we can rely on companies in the north and south of Williams Lake. It is a concern, but guys are working hard to make sure there’s enough wood to run the plant.”

Tolko’s Soda Creek division plant manager Mike Dextrase said the company has a few days of logs in the bush, but has lost many cubic metres of decked wood to the fires.

“We hope to pick away at what we do have and hope it helps bridge the gap until the fire risk allows logging to restart,” Dextrase said. “This is a concern for all mills and areas south of here as many other facilities are low or out of logs which will mean more jobs will be affected, at least until the weather helps slow the fires.”

Walgren said logs from burnt out areas that are salvageable can be used in mills.

Fire protection response admirable

Dextrase and Walgren said they were proud of their employees’ responses to the evacuation alerts and orders.

By the evening of July 7 operations were impacted at all mills because evacuation orders had forced some employees out of their homes in areas just outside the city and others were on alert.

“There was so much stress in the plant that we curtailed operations,” Walgren said, noting after July 7 anybody who showed up for work helped with site security and fire preparedness.

Dextrase said Tolko also began preparing once the first alerts were issued.

Employees removed combustibles including all logs, lumber and debris from inside and around the sawmill, planer and other buildings.

“We held daily meetings to review and implement risk mitigation ideas from our employees including everything from closing doors and building openings to cleaning and strategically spacing our mobile equipment,” Dextrase said.

When the evacuation order was issued for Williams Lake on Saturday, July 15, Walgren said he was impressed by his employees.

“The order came down during the shift change so there was an added difficulty of getting people off site and corralling people who were coming to work letting them know they could not come in,” he said. “In 20 minutes, everyone was out and the building buttoned up.”

Both companies worked with fire departments brought in to help the Williams Lake Fire Dept. to set up sprinkler protection in and around the community.

“We had sprinklers on roofs, log decks and re-piles,” Walgren said, noting he was was grateful for the leadership shown by the incident commander in charge and the fire protection crew that managed the site.

“They were here to do a job,” Walgren said. “They were there to help us and we were here to help them. For us as employees we don’t know how to fight structure fires but the fire departments are trained to do that.”

Dextrase said one of the biggest challenges during the alerts and orders was communication.

“We tried to have as much one-on-one communication as possible with our employees, and with the fires flanking west of the Soda Creek mill area,” he said, noting the company used its website, Facebook and Twitter, plus set up a portal with other Tolko employees who had room for the evacuated employees and their families.

Aside from hosting evacuees, Walgren said employees from Smithers and Chetwynd came to Williams Lake for the week after the fires started, bringing cots, food and sprinklers.

Monica Lamb-Yorski

About the Author: Monica Lamb-Yorski

A B.C. gal, I was born in Alert Bay, raised in Nelson, graduated from the University of Winnipeg, and wrote my first-ever article for the Prince Rupert Daily News.
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