CALGARY – As thousands flee from wildfires raging through British Columbia’s interior, the blazes are also hurting the province’s resource industry, forcing the closure of lumber mills, disrupting mining operations and threatening a natural gas pipeline.

More than 200 wildfires threaten homes and businesses in B.C., causing 14,000 people to evacuate with thousands more on alert. Forestry and mining operations have been shuttered in the communities of Williams Lake, 100 Mile House and Chasm in the central part of the province.

The Williams Lake and 100 Mile House areas produce roughly 7 per cent of all the lumber cut in B.C. each year, according to data from the province.

“It’s an important cluster,” University of British Columbia assistant professor in forestry sciences Harry Nelson said of the area. He added that if the fires damage mills in those areas, poor economics mean the facilities might not be rebuilt.

Wildfires in the area have forced forestry companies Norbord Inc., West Fraser Timber Co. Ltd. and Tolko Industries to suspend operations at their mills this week as people living in the areas have been evacuated or are under alert.

West Fraser’s affected facilities produce 800 million board feet of lumber of 270 million square feet of plywood each year, the company said in a release. “Extraordinary efforts by our highly professional and dedicated employees have helped safeguard our affected assets to date,” the company said.

“Everyday that continues to go by that we don’t get them contained and new fires start, these economic disruptions and interruptions start to turn into meaningful impacts and costs,” Nelson said, adding it’s too early to quantify what the impact could be on the province’s economy.

The fires will also have a wider effect on lumber pricing, Simon Fraser University business professor Lindsay Meredith said, as lumber from the region is used in U.S. home construction and as fibre in paper production.

Meredith said the fires represent “a major, major interruption in supply” for lumber at a time when construction activity in the U.S. is ramping up.

“This is only going to fire up the American housing market in pricing,” he said, adding that homebuilding costs in the U.S. have already risen as a result of U.S. President Donald Trump’s tariffs on softwood lumber.

In addition to lumber production, the areas most affected by the wildfires in B.C. are home to mining operations.

The fires have forced Imperial Metals Corp. to scale back mining operations at the Mount Polley Mine, which is 56 kilometres from Williams Lake, as many roads used to access the site are shut down.

“Should critical supplies such as fuel not be available due to road closures, the mine may be forced to suspend operations,” a release from the company said.

Taseko Mines Ltd. vice-president, corporate affairs Brian Battison said some of his company’s employees have had to evacuate their homes as a result of the fires, which the company is monitoring, and Taseko has changed some employees’ shifts to accommodate and maintain operations.

The wildfires have not yet affected Teck Resources Ltd.’s mining operations, a spokesperson for the company said, but Teck will donate to the relief effort. Both Teck and Taseko are continuing to monitor the growth of the fires.

In addition to the mill and mine shut downs, Canada’s largest pipeline company Enbridge Inc. confirmed the fires has affected one of its compressor stations on the T-South pipeline, which delivers most of the natural gas supplied to the Vancouver area.

Enbridge spokesperson Jesse Semko said in an email that “there has not been a significant reduction in volumes” on the pipeline. “We are currently assessing commercial impacts and are working with our customers to mitigate those impacts,” he said.

Financial Post

gmorgan@nationalpost.com

Twitter.com/geoffreymorgan