Homeless in Vancouver: B.C. wildfires linked to rising plywood prices

    1 of 2 2 of 2

      July 23 to August 23 is a well-known time for fire signs—and not just in astrology but lately in B.C. forests as well.

      On this first morning of August in Vancouver, the sun was a spot of honeyed glare in an eastern sky the colour of diluted milk, or—more accurately—of wood smoke.

      The smoke drifting our way could very well be from a 202-hectare wildfire that appears to be burning not much more than 50 kilometres east of Vancouver, at Harrison Lake East, approximately 30 kilometres north of Harrison Hot Springs, near the mouth of Big Silver Creek, according the the B.C. Wildfire Service Active Wildfires map.

      The single worst-hit area of B.C. is a little over 300 kilometres northeast of Vancouver, in the Fraser Plateau area around Williams Lake, also called the Cariboo Fire Centre, where, as of midnight, there were 51 active wildfires reported.

      Provincewide there was a total of 117 active wildfires as of midnight, according to the B.C. Wildfire Service.

      B.C.’s wildfires felt far beyond the fireline

      Smoke obscures the view of the North Shore Mountains at 9:36 p.m. on July 17.
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      The smoky haze over Vancouver is a sign of how serious and widespread this year’s wildfire season has become.

      More than that though, it brings home to us the fact that people and communities elsewhere in B.C. have been battling hard now for well over a month against one of the most relentlessly terrifying and destructive forces of nature—wildfire.

      For residents of British Columbia’s Cariboo, worn out as they must be, there is no respite in sight for weeks yet, just the threat of scorching temperatures and more fire!

      And the woman that I saw at a bus stop on West Broadway this morning, who was taking puffs from what I took to be a metered asthma inhaler—followed by long sips from her water bottle—she was a reminder that the smoke can be far worse than just an inconvenience to Vancouverites, young and old who suffer from respiratory problems.

      Lumber prices rise

      Meanwhile, the B.C. wildfires may be causing such widespread disruption to logging in the province as to interrupt the flow of certain softwood products relied on by the construction trades.

      At least, that’s what an employee of Windsor Plywood (located in Fairview at 7th and Fir, appropriately enough) believes is behind the sudden doubling in the price of fir-grade plywood sheathing, used in everything from roofing to the framing of walls.

      Two weeks ago Windsor sold a single four-by-eight-foot sheet of five-eighths-inch fir-grade plywood sheathing foe $29. Today, the exact same sheet of plywood at Windsor costs about $60.90.

      The employee assured me that this two-week, 110 percent price increase was entirely due to an increase in the wholesale price of the plywood—which affected all retailers, not just Windsor.

      The employee related how a veteran of the hardware/lumber business had characterized the sudden price hike as unprecedented in their 23 years of experience. And also how one retailer has decided to stop stocking the skyrocketing grade of plywood sheathing altogether until the price settles back down.

      Clearly it will be increasingly bad business for everyone in the province if anything like this year’s wildfire season (or last year’s, or the year before that) becomes the new normal.

      But surely, B.C. can’t burn like this every year, can it?

      Stanley Q. Woodvine is a homeless resident of Vancouver who has worked in the past as an illustrator, graphic designer, and writer. Follow Stanley on Twitter at @sqwabb.