Nilsson Select Contracting loads biomass into a Timberland Holdings demolition bin truck for transport to Atlantic Power Corp. above Williams Lake inside the Williams Lake Community Forests’s Flat Rock Block where a project is underway to create a 300-metre-wide fire break between the forest and residential areas.

Forestry project aims to protect Williams Lake from wildfire threats

The Williams Lake Community Forest is a joint venture with the city and the Williams Lake Indian Band.

Efforts are underway in Williams Lake to create a fuel break that will protect residential areas from the threat of wildfires approaching from the west.

Under the direction of Williams Lake Community Forest manager Ken Day, crews have begun clearing a 300-metre wide pathway in the community forest’s Flat Rock block that will eventually be 11 kilometres in length.

“We have been asked by the Cariboo Region and the forest district to create a shaded fuel break to protect the city of Williams Lake and the local area from a wind-driven crown fire approaching from the west,” Day said Wednesday as he gave the Tribune a tour of the area. “If you think back to 2010, and the concerns we had with west of the Fraser River and everybody was on high alert in the log yards to deal with sparks, etc. That’s what we are addressing here. ”

The project is comprised of three phase and will take quite a few years to complete, Day said.

The first phase is to thin forest stands.

Secondly, crews have taken out all commercial logs to the roadside and transported them to local mills.

Finally, instead of burning the leftover logging residue, all biomass is being brought to the roadside by machine and crews are in the forest hand-picking fuel and adding it to the piles for delivery to Atlantic Power Corporation where it will be ground as fuel for its biomass fuelled power plant.

“You can see here there’s a pile of logs and tops,” Day said as he pointed to a large pile of debris on the side of the road. “That was all done by the hand crew that Dave Cady of Borland Creek Logging is running. They are coming through before the forwarder and piling up the extra branches.”

Typically the slash piles were burned in the past, but smoke restrictions have become more stringent so it’s a win-win situation to take the piles to Atlantic Power, Day added.

On Wednesday, however, the handpicking crew left the area at noon because of a mother black bear and her two cubs that were in close proximity, Day said.

“We’ve also got a doe and fawn hanging around here while we are working,” he added.

A shaded fuel break will leave very little ladder fuels that will take the fire from the ground up to the crowns of the trees.

“Fire intensity is reduced and there is space between the crowns of the trees so that means the fire has to come to the ground and burn weakly on the surface,” Day said, adding the road is in a good position for defensive firefighting.

Crews have left some untreated areas that will be negative for fire to provide hiding cover for deer.

“We do that so we are not enticing people to shoot into the forest,” Day added.

Atlantic Power plant manager Mark Blezard said they don’t have a grinder on site so they have been stockpiling the biomass from the community forest and bringing in a portable grinder.

“The fibre is not our cheapest, but when blended with all our other fibre it’s reasonable,” Blezard said. “There are added costs because we don’t have our shredding system up and running, but in theory, when we do get our shredder if we get a long time agreement with BC Hydro we will have a shredding system that can handle this type of clean debris from the landfill or the forests.”

The project is giving the company a good trial, Blezard added.

“If this stuff does come in ad hoc we can see the costs and how it will work and so far it’s been great and working out well.”

Normally the plant is curtailed in the summer months by BC Hydro and it is optimum to stockpile fuel because it is dry, he added.

Day said 30 hectares of forest have been thinned so far and it is hoped to thin 100 hectares in 2017.

Here Ken Day and Peter Nilsson talk about the project.

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