Canada wildfires disrupt mines, force thousands of evacuations

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) – Rapidly spreading wildfires in Western Canada’s British Columbia on Monday disrupted timber and mining operations, damaged equipment at a regional electric utility and forced thousands from homes in the interior of the province.

Authorities said at least 10 of more than 200 fires burning across the province were close to residential communities. Some 38,000 hectares (93,900 acres) had been ravaged as of midday on Monday. No deaths or serious injuries have been reported, but some 14,000 people have been forced from their homes.

West Fraser Timber Co said it had temporarily suspended operations at 100 Mile House, Williams Lake and Chasm. It said the sites have total annual production capacity of 800 million board feet of lumber and 270 million square feet of plywood.

“The fire situation in the Interior of British Columbia is volatile and the situation is evolving,” said West Fraser, one of several Canadian lumber producers targeted by new U.S. tariffs in April as a long-running trade dispute escalated.

Vancouver-based EnGold Mines Ltd said it had suspended exploration in British Columbia, home to all of its operations.

Tourists from Denmark stop to photograph one of several wildifres burning near Little Fort, British Columbia, Canada July 9, 2017.Dennis Owen

Imperial Metals Corp said activity at its Mount Polley copper mine was “significantly reduced” because some employees had been evacuated from their homes, many roads had been closed and a local airport had been shut down.

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

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Taseko Mines Ltd, which operates a mine near some of the fires, said some employees had been affected by evacuation alerts, but the facility was still running at capacity.

The province’s main electricity distributor BC Hydro and Power Authority said more than 170 power poles and 29 transformers had been damaged, and it expected the damage to increase.

British Columbia on Friday declared its first state of emergency since 2003 and deployed some 1,600 personnel over the weekend as electrical storms and brisk winds passed through the interior of the bone-dry province.

The fires broke out just over a year after a wildfire in Fort McMurray in neighbouring Alberta province displaced 88,000 people and burned 590,000 hectares.

Reporting by Ethan Lou in Calgary, Alberta; Editing by Tom Brown and Richard Pullin

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