Forest fires force temporary closure of two BC mines

A giant fireball is seen as a wildfire rips through the forest 16 km south of Fort McMurray, Alberta last summer. (Image from CTV News video, via YouTube)

A hot and dry summer in British Columbia has set forests aflame, and last week the effects of Mother Nature were felt by two prominent BC mines.

The warnings from Imperial Metals (TSX:III), which operates the Mount Polley copper-gold mine near Williams Lake (also Huckleberry and Red Chris) started on July 10, when the company said it closed several roads used to access the site as a precaution against the encroaching wildfires. Two days later, Imperial said its operations had been affected, since all employees under evacuation order in Williams Lake had to pack up their homes and leave the area. The mine however stayed operating, “with milling and mining operations continuing at rates proportional to the amount of employees able to report to site,” according to a statement. By last Monday the situation had worsened, with the evacuation order increasing restrictions on highway use, and Imperial Metals made the decision to shut the mine down – despite the operation not being under threat from the fires.

Meanwhile Taseko Mines (TSX:TKO), which operates the Gibraltar mine near Williams Lake, temporarily closed the mine on July 15, but restarted in on Wednesday, July 19.

“Limiting employment interruption keeps the payrolls going, which in-turn provides community stability and continuity. Continuing to spend money with local businesses on equipment, services and supplies — which is only possible if employers are up and running — helps the whole region. Most importantly it helps people by giving them the ability to keep paying their bills and mortgages and meeting their obligations at home,” the company said in a statement.

“At this time no fires threaten the mine facility. However, an evacuation order remains in effect for the City of Williams Lake (65 kilometres south of the mine) and the risk of potential wildfire in the region persists.”

At least seven lumber mills operated by West Fraser Timber Co., Norbord Inc., and Tolko Industries Ltd. have been affected by the fires, according to The Financial Post, leading to an increase in the prices of some lumber grades. The province is the world’s largest exporter of softwood lumber used in homebuilding. Over 375 forest fires have been burning in the province, forcing the evacuations of an estimated 37,000 people from their homes, damaging property and turning normally clear skies into a smoky haze.