Forest industry feeling impact of intense wildfire season

By Jill Sperling
August 23, 2017 - 5:17pm Updated: August 23, 2017 - 6:10pm

KAMLOOPS — Between evacuations and closures of backcountry activity, loggers and mill workers are feeling the impact of this unprecedented fire season. 

Marty Gibbons, president of United Steelworkers Local 1-417, says dry conditions have suspended much of the logging activity across the province, and numerous mills have slowed or shut down operations due to a significant decline of marketable timber. 

Some mills were required to shut down when evacuation orders forced workers out of fire threatened areas. 

All of this has put strain on an already struggling industry. 

"Our Merritt operation went down ... late last year," Gibbons said. "So, it's been a tough year on the forest industry. It just seems like we keep rolling with the punches. At this point in time I don't know if anyone's talking layoffs, but no one really knows what the effect of these fires is going to be on timber supply. But, the amount of timber that is burnt is gigantic. It's the worst year we've ever had by far."

While some of the burnt timber can still be salvaged, the quality is downgraded. 

Some employees were unable to work for several weeks, stripping them of a regular paycheck. 

"Originally we had heard some talk about waiving the waiting period for EI, apparently that didn't happen, which is very disappointing because a lot of these workers being forced out of their homes, many have returned now, but in addition to that they've lost their source of income," Gibbons said. "These are people supporting families, most can't afford to be out of work. It's really disappointing that the federal government didn't step up and waive that waiting period. It's kicking them when they're down as far as I'm concerned."

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