Sawmills in Houston, Fraser Lake and Vanderhoof are hauling in logs that had been decked and ready to haul to Babine Forest Products in Burns Lake before it was destroyed by fire.
For now, only the logs that were already processed and piled up for January and February deliveries will be hauled out, said Richard Vossen, woods manager for BFP’s parent company Hampton Affiliates.
“It’s short-term work,” he said. “It’s going to keep the fellas busy probably close to break-up.”
Canfor has reached a tentative deal to haul 60,000 cubic metres of the BFP logs to its mills in Houston and Vanderhoof, said Mike Grimm, general manager for Canfor’s Houston operation.
But before those logs can move, Grimm said they will have to be resized because they have smaller tops than the Houston mill is equipped to handle.
That is good news for out-of-work buckers, log truck drivers—and other contractors.
An estimated 500 people, 250 of who were directly employed at the BFP mill, lost their jobs when it burned down after a Jan. 20 explosion.
For now, Vossen said log fellers and mill workers will have to look elsewhere.
“In regards to falling timber and things like that, that work has been shut down,” he said. “Some of those folks are either looking for work or have already found work elsewhere.”
A Feb. 10 jobs fair hosted by the Village of Burns Lake will try to speed up that job hunt.
Some of the former BFP workers are likely to find work in Houston—both the Houston Canfor sawmill and West Fraser’s Houston Forest Products will set up booths at the fair.
“We’re a little short here for labour,” said Grimm, adding that Canfor is looking for new hires across the board, from labourers to maintenance workers.
“Obviously, with what they’re dealing with there they will be looking for jobs for a while,” Grimm added. “Even if they rebuild it’ll be 18 months.”
A task force appointed by the provincial government is looking at what jobs are available across the region.
Pat Bell, B.C.’s job minister and the BC Liberal MLA for Prince George-Mackenzie, said that Mackenzie was dealt a similar blow when every one of its sawmills shut down.
After watching Mackenzie’s mill workers make that difficult transition, Bell said he doesn’t think people in Burns Lake will have to sell their homes and move for work.
“We want stability for the community,” he said.
“Finding short-term employment for displaced employees will be the first focus of the task force.”
John Rustad, the BC Liberal MLA for Nechako-Lakes said there are between 250 and 350 jobs available in the region, including some 110 jobs at the Huckleberry and Endako mines. Forestry company Conifex is loking for log haulers, he added, and there has been some speculation that CORE Biofuels may be considering a site in Burns Lake. The company had looked at setting up in Houston three years ago.
Besides serving the former BFP workers’ immediate needs, Bell said short-term jobs are a focus because he is optimistic that Babine Forest Products will eventually reopen.
Even without the mill, Hampton Affiliates retains a license to cut 500,000 cubic metres of timber a year from the Lakes timber supply area.