by Laura Keil

A map of the Hugh Allen fire. / RMG File Photo

Vern Mickelson is no stranger to wildfires. The Valemount logger has seen fires over the years, but they didn’t prepare him for what he saw Friday night.

He and the other contractors working in the Hugh Allen valley roughly 60 km south of Valemount headed there in pickups Friday night to retrieve their logging equipment. It had been hot and windy for two days and they planned to move their equipment further from the blaze.

When they arrived at 8 pm Friday night, the valley was engulfed, fire spreading both East and West.

“By the time we got there, there was no way to even get in there.”

He said there were dry conditions in the bush – dry and dead trees – that may have contributed to the rapid spread.

“I was very surprised at what had happened, to be quite honest. I’ve seen a lot of fire behaviour in the past, but that one acted very erratically.”

Mickelson lost a parts trailer worth roughly $20,000 and his Suburban got burned.

But other contractors fared worse: Both Edgewater Holdings out of Prince George and Spaz Logging of Valemount lost heavy equipment. Several loggers’ personal camp trailers also burned up.

In total, five trailers, several pieces of heavy equipment, a couple of parts trailers, a fuel truck, a service truck and several fuel tanks were destroyed.

Mickelson estimates the total loss to be in the millions.

“$5 million for sure was lost. That might be an underestimate even. But I would safely say $5 million,” he said. “It’s pretty devastating.”

He said everyone is now the process of dealing with insurance companies and trying to find replacement equipment.

The BC Wildfire Service estimates the fire has destroyed 10,000 ha of forest to date. The BC Wildfire Service is not actively fighting the fire due to inaccessibility and the risk factor to fire crews.

On Sunday, following the logging equipment incident, the BC Wildfire Service restricted public access to Crown Land in the vicinity of the Hugh Allen Creek wildfire.

The area restriction begins at the 21 km mark of the East Canoe FSR but the road is open from 0 km to 21 km. The public is not permitted to pass the Valemount Marina.

The restriction is put in place to protect public safety due to the wildfire’s rate of spread and to avoid interference with fire control activities, the Wildfire Service says, and will remain in place until Sept. 15, 2018, or until rescinded.

Adrian VanderZwan at the Valemount Community Forest said the logging in the Hugh Allen valley is a BC Timber Sales operation (BC Timber Sales is a Crown Corporation). VanderZwan was overseeing one of the blocks on behalf of Carrier Lumber.

When asked about general protocol around wildfires and logging, VanderZwan said he wasn’t aware of any definitive rules.

“I don’t think there’s any set rules,” VanderZwan said. “Near as I can tell, it was really up to the contractor if they wanted to move out or not.”

Mickelson said when they realized the fire had spread, everyone pitched in and saved the gear they could.

“There was fire all around, and smoke, and trees across the road and all the rest of it.”

“The whole valley’s black on both sides, all the way up,” said Mickelson.

He said this area has been fortunate in the past couple years.

“We haven’t had too many fire issues for quite some time here,” he said. “We’re paying for it now.”

The Goat reached out to Spaz Logging and Edgewater Holdings, but did not receive a comment by presstime.