B.C. wildfires hit lumber mills, get close to Kinder Morgan pipeline

Danielle Bochove and Natalie Obiko Pearson

Wildfires in British Columbia have forced Canadian lumber mills to shut and were edging closer to a Kinder Morgan Inc. oil pipeline as hot, dry weather sparked blazes across swathes of western Canada and the U.S.

Norbord Inc., the largest North American producer of oriented strand board used in residential construction, said Monday it has temporarily suspended production at its mill in 100 Mile House in central B.C. The Toronto-based company, which has 440 million square feet of annual production capacity, said it’s assessing the fire’s impact.

West Fraser Timber Co., one of Canada’s largest lumber producers backed by billionaire Jim Pattison, has shut at three locations in B.C. – 100 Mile House, Williams Lake and Chasm, the company said in an e-mail Monday. Meanwhile, Kinder Morgan said its Trans Mountain crude pipeline is still operating but the blazes were in the “vicinity.”

Wildfires have swept across the western U.S. and Canada, forcing thousands of evacuations across California, Colorado and B.C., and prompting military personnel to mobilize on both sides of the border to help battle the flames.

Oil Pipeline

B.C. declared its first state of emergency in 14 years over the weekend with more than 200 active fires burning across the province. More than 10,000 people have been evacuated in the Pacific Coast province, according to broadcaster CBC.

Some of the worst fires have been raging in the province’s central region, an area that’s home to mining, forestry and ranching. Kinder Morgan’s pipeline, which carries 300,000 barrels a day of crude oil and refined fuels from neighboring Alberta to the Vancouver area for export to the U.S., also passes through the region.

Kinder Morgan said in an e-mail that it’s “monitoring the area and taking preventative measures to ensure the safety of our operations.”

Last year, wildfires five times the size of New York City swept through Alberta’s Fort McMurray, the gateway to the world’s third-largest oil reserves, forcing about 80,000 people out of their homes. Those blazes curtailed more than a million barrels of daily crude output as companies including Suncor Energy Inc., ConocoPhillips and Royal Dutch Shell Plc cut production.

Major Mines

So far, no major mines appear to have had their output impacted. Vancouver-based Taseko Mines Ltd. – operator of Canada’s second-biggest open-pit copper mine in B.C.’s Cariboo region where seven major fires are currently burning – said Monday that some of its workers have been personally affected by the fires but that the Gibraltar mine continues to operate normally.

Teck Resources Ltd.’s Highland Valley copper mine lies just south of a major fire reported by the B.C. Wildfire Service at Ashcroft Reserve. “We are closely monitoring the situation and at this time we do not anticipate an impact on mining operations,” said spokesman Chad Pederson in an email. “No other Teck operation is affected by wildfires at this time.”

Copper Mountain Mining Corp., which has a mine 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of Princeton, B.C., briefly lost power due to a line being downed but is operating normally, Dan Gibbons, a spokesman, said by phone. First-aid personnel from the company have been sent to Princeton to help the evacuation center there, he added. Copper Mountain is the only miner in B.C. to have reported an impact so far, according to the Ministry of Energy and Mines.

Local fire officials in Arizona, Colorado, California and Nevada said Monday that they didn’t know of any mines affected by the fires. Company spokesmen for Barrick Gold Corp. and Newmont Mining Corp. said mining operations in Nevada were unaffected.