Roslyn KuninThe long-term economic impact of fires burning in British Columbia’s interior will be devastating.

The blessing of a warm, sunny summer has turned into a curse as forest fires rage throughout much of the interior British Columbia. Weather forecasters predict ongoing warm, windy weather, so no immediate respite is expected for those trying to contain the fires.

The fear and uncertainty remain for those whose homes and communities are at risk, and whose lives and livelihoods have been disrupted. Those of us who can safely continue with the ordinariness of our lives can barely imagine what those affected by the fires are going through.

Fortunately, many have stepped forward to offer their time, money, goods and efforts, not only to fight the fires, but also to help and support the displaced.

Unfortunately, a lot more help will be needed until the fires are extinguished. And yet more will be needed after the province has cooled.

However, many communities have learned hard lessons from previous fire seasons and have cleaned up brush, and created other natural firebreaks around their homes and communities. What’s been spared may not be much compared to all that’s being lost. But for those whose homes and towns are affected, even small mercies make a big difference.

The impact of the fires on the B.C. economy is huge. All economic activity has ceased in the burning and threatened regions. Workers from other areas – including outside B.C. – have been diverted from their usual activities to fight the fires, as has heavy equipment and aircraft, including helicopters. All this represents lost production.

Needless to say, a tourist season that showed great promise is lost. So too is much of the summer work, especially for young people. Hopefully the tourism industry can be restored next year.

There’s no thought of construction projects in or around the affected areas.

And forestry activity has ceased, as has work at mills and wood processing plants.

Mines could be shut down because they’re in the line of the fires. Their workers will be diverted to fighting fires or be evacuated, since access to roads and other transport to get workers and materials in and out has been compromised.

All these disruptions are short term.

The big question is what will happen after the fires? Will affected mills rebuild and reopen?

Not all woods operations in B.C. have been productive and profitable. The increased lumber tariffs at the United States border have made the situation worse.

We don’t know when there will be a new lumber agreement with the U.S. and what it will look like. Hopefully, an agreement will come soon. Most likely it will feature barriers against B.C. lumber that are lower than the current tariffs but higher than was those under the previous softwood lumber agreement.

But the reduction in the supply of wood caused by the fire-related production interruptions and the destruction of forests will tend to raise wood prices.

Nevertheless, there’s still enough uncertainty to deter marginal forestry producers from reopening.

As well, older, less productive mining operations may consider whether it’s worth while to stay in business. The prospect of future fires looms and there’s not much we can do about it.

But all is not doom and gloom.

In the short term, B.C.’s economic numbers will look good as jobs are created and materials are used to rebuild destroyed communities.

And technology offers some small comfort to the evacuees. Losing everything, including family photos, is horrible. But now we keep photos, music, books, contact lists and more on devices or in the cloud. It’s a small comfort to know that, even in a disaster, there are some things we can take with us.

Troy Media columnist Roslyn Kunin is a consulting economist and speaker. 

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