Williams Lake under evacuation alert

Several sawmills shut down, loggers seconded to fight fires

More than 130 wildfires are currently burning in B.C. | BC Wildfire Service

Numerous villages and reserves in B.C. have already been evacuated, and several more, including Williams Lake, are under evacuation alerts that may require residents to flee at a moment’s notice, as wildfires continue to sweep throughout the interior of B.C.

Thousands are without power in the Williams Lake region, and several sawmills have had to shut down.

There are more than 100 wildfires burning in B.C., according to the B.C. government.

The largest is a 4,200-hectare fire west of Kamloops near the Ashcroft Indian Reserve, which has been evacuated. But Williams Lake is the area with the highest concentration of fires.

Roughly 2,600 people are still without power in the Williams Lake and 100 Mile House area, according to BC Hydro. As many as 7,000 were without power July 10. BC Hydro estimates 170 power poles and 30 transformers have been destroyed by fire in the Williams Lake area.

J.P. Laplante, the mining, oil and gas manager for the Tsilhqot’in National Government, said several Tsilhqot’in villages have been evacuated, and a number of roads have been closed.

“In some cases they were closed because of fires and now they’ve been kept closed to control traffic and maintain order and control,” he said. “There’s dozens of power lines on the side of the road.”

Some fires have been burning since last week in the Cariboo region. West FraserTimber (TSX:WFT) has shut down three of its sawmills in Williams Lake, 100 Mile House and 70 Mile House. Tolko also shut down its Lakeview and Soda Creek sawmills in Williams Lake.

A number of logging operations have been shut down, but that doesn’t necessarily mean loggers aren’t working. Many have been seconded to work for the BC Wildfire Service.

“The Cache Creek, Ashcroft, Williams Lake area, most of them are out fighting fire,” said Wayne Lintott, manager of the Interior Logging Association.

So far, the Gibraltar mine near Williams Lake is still operating, but many of the company’s employees may have to leave the area, if Williams Lake is evacuated, said Taseko Mines Ltd. (TSX:TKO) spokesperson Brian Battison.

“The fires have affected some of our employees who live in communities currently under evacuation or on evacuation alert,” Battison said.
“The highest priority and obligation for our employees is the safety and security of their homes and families. And with Williams Lake now under evacuation alert, some employees are attending to that higher priority and individual shift schedules are adjusted accordingly.”

It’s too early tell what the economic toll will be in B.C. The Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) has set up a mobile centre at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops to deal with fire insurance claims and questions.

“Any business owners that have insurance questions can pop by our setup at Thompson Rivers University and insurance experts are on hand to answer any questions they might have,” said IBC media relations manager Andrew McGrath. “We’re expecting to also do the same for Prince George in the next 24 to 36 hours.”

More than 300 firefighters from across Canada have now arrived in B.C. to help fight the wildfires, according to the BC Wildfire Service.

The service has deployed 32 airplanes and 200 helicopters to help fight the fires. Seven airtankers have been brought in from other provinces.