HARVESTING B.C.’s fire-ravaged forests

HARVESTING B.C.’s fire-ravaged forests

Rod Dillman Contracting is now tackling harvesting fire-salvage timber in the Cariboo region, one of the areas hit by B.C.’s worst forest fire season, when more than 12,000 square kilometres was burned by megafires.

By Jim Stirling

The deer seemed to approve of what was happening. They moved right in behind the logging equipment to enjoy the fresh browse. Rod Dillman Contracting crews were harvesting wildfire-blackened timber and brush from in behind the 108 Mile Ranch development in the south Cariboo region of British Columbia.

The salvage logging show is a small part of a huge problem stretching across broad swathes of the B.C. Interior. The fire-ravaged timber is the legacy from B.C.’s worst forest wild fire season, in 2017.

HARVESTING B.C.’s fire-ravaged forestsHeading up the company is the husband and wife team of Rod Dillman and Debra Maclean. They’ve created a sense of family and respect within company operations.

The stats are scary. The B.C. Wildfire Service estimates 12,164 square kilometres was burned by the megafires necessitating fire suppression costs of $562.7 million. During the fire season, 65,000 people were evacuated from their homes and businesses. Two homes in the 108 Mile area were lost to the ferocious wild fires. The 108 is especially vulnerable, being essentially a forest with houses in it.

What happened in 2017 is a chilling wake-up call for all B.C. Interior residents—but especially those living in the Cariboo region. Most regional residents are looking to the 2018 wildfire season with more than a little trepidation.

Most of the timber burned is on Crown land and remains as left when the fires went out. Regional licencees and their loggers have been frustrated in their efforts to have logging permits approved and no local timber sales had been offered for the burned areas into early March 2018.

Rod Dillman Contracting, in contrast, has been busy since the fires were extinguished, log harvesting for private landowners and ranchers. Harvesting the burned timber sooner rather than later makes the most sense. It maximizes the recovery value of the damaged timber and removes a hazard from the landscape.

Jordan Dillman, Rod’s son, was heading the salvage logging show behind the 108 development when Logging and Sawmilling Journal visited.

“The fire’s behaviour through the dominant spruce stands is very hit and miss,” notes Dillman. And that’s reflected by the varying condition and quality of the timber. Some stems were heavily damaged, others barely seared.  He reckons between 4,000 and 5,000 cubic metres of burned wood were scheduled for removal from the site. Sawlogs down to 4.5 inch tops were being harvested and shipped to West Fraser’s sawmill in 100 Mile House while Norbord Inc’s oriented strand board manufacturing plant in 100 Mile was accepting logs down to 2.5 inch tops for processing.

Dillman had organized the logging crew and machinery to get the job done most efficiently. These days that usually means the application of technology in one form or other. But one of Dillman’s priorities for running this particular show was more prosaic: cleanliness. Preventive maintenance measures are routine for successful loggers and keeping machines clean and greased after a shift is fundamental. Most of Dillman’s operators stick to the same machine and have developed a sense of pride in its efficient operation.

But as Dillman explains, normal dust, debris and ice is one thing—but the addition of abrasives like ash and carbon create a whole new issue and a potentially toxic brew for machine engines and other vital parts. And ash and carbon from burned timber finds its way into everything. “We don’t take chances in burned wood,” he says. “We air blow the filters to keep them clean. We replace them every two or three days whether they appear to need replacing or not. Operators have to safeguard their machines at the end of every shift.”

Dillman was running three processors at the heart of the burned wood salvage show. The company owns four of them, three Link-Belts and a Hyundai, all fitted with Southstar 500 series processing heads. They’ve proved to be a highly successful and reliable combination for Dillman Contracting.

HARVESTING B.C.’s fire-ravaged forestsPreventive maintenance measures are routine for successful loggers like Rod Dillman Contracting, and keeping machines clean and greased after a shift is fundamental. Ash and carbon from burned timber finds its way into everything, requiring extra maintenance, such as replacing air filters every two or three days.

“We’ve got about 9,000 hours on one of the Link-Belt 210s and maybe we’ve had one day’s downtime total during that time with the original motor and pumps,” he reports. The Southstar processing heads have proved equally stellar performers. “Southstar’s service and support is second to none,” he says. The 500 series heads have proved compatible for the timber types the company routinely encounters. “They can handle the bigger wood well and in the smaller wood the ability to multi-stem is really nice. The volume adds up big time when you can multi-stem even two trees,” he adds.

As a specialist in small scale salvage and acquiring compatible timber sales, Rod Dillman Contracting routinely finds ways to harvest and utilize wood larger licencees pile for burning. They try to find ways to harvest all the timber types and return value to their customers, continues Dillman.

Rod Dillman Contracting was employing about 20 people on two sides: the burned wood salvage operation and a side for Norbord Inc. Heading up the company is the husband and wife team of Rod Dillman and Debra Maclean. They’ve created a sense of family and respect within the company operations. It’s definitely a place with more smiles than snarls.

Perhaps part of that is because both Dillman and Maclean grew up in traditional logging families. She at Gibsons on B.C.’s Sunshine Coast and he right there in the southern Cariboo. “Now we have an awesome team working with us. I can’t say enough about them,” says Rod Dillman.

HARVESTING B.C.’s fire-ravaged forestsThe company began modestly enough. It was in 2005 when Rod Dillman set out on his own with a Cat 950 wheel loader. A skidder, buncher and loader were added and Rod Dillman Contracting was well on its way. It was around that time in the company’s evolution that logging truck availability became an issue. The pool of trucks in the 100 Mile area was finite and most of them responded to the needs of the region’s larger licencees. “We were small but we didn’t want to be hostage when it came to moving our wood,” he explains. So the company invested in its own logging trucks. When it added a roadbuilding capability, Rod Dillman Contracting became a true stump to dump logging contractor. The company runs four of its own Western Star trucks and it has the use of a dedicated owner/operator. The company also runs a low bed—which all the truck drivers can operate—to move harvesting equipment when and where it’s needed. “It works out well,” he says.

The logging trucks complement the principal log harvesting equipment which includes: the four processors; four feller bunchers, three Tigercats and a Madill; three skidders, two John Deere and a Tigercat; a Hyundai and Link-Belt decking machines and two loaders, a Madill 2850 and a Hyundai 2200. The company’s roadbuilding side includes a Cat D6, D7 and an excavator along with other ancillary equipment.

“That’s what puts groceries on the table for us all,” says Dillman. “Every time we buy a machine. I remember where I came from.” To help keep the equipment purring along, the company uses the services of a full time mechanic and runs a mobile service truck for the logging equipment.

HARVESTING B.C.’s fire-ravaged forestsThe equipment line-up at Rod Dillman Contracting includes a Tigercat 630D skidder. Its crews were harvesting wildfire-blackened timber and brush from in behind the 108 Mile Ranch development in the south Cariboo region of British Columbia, earlier this year.

Dillman is a full time machine operator: show him a cab and he’s at home in it. Maclean takes on the finance and safety responsibilities for running a log contracting business. And they’re becoming increasingly onerous and time consuming. Rod Dillman Contracting is a SAFE certified company and offers a benefits package to its co-workers. One chore Maclean doesn’t have to worry too much about is rustling up private landowner business for the company. “I think it’s because over time we’ve earned a good reputation through word of mouth,” she says.

The company’s most recent expansion was not a new—or used—logging machine but a place to help keep the existing fleet performing optimally. The company’s new office and shop is in an industrial part of 100 Mile House. Surplus space in it has been rented. But Maclean has plans to make the office a comfy as well as functional for the use of all the Rod Dillman Contracting family team.

Logging and Sawmilling Journal
May/June 2018

On the Cover:
Rod Dillman Contracting crews were recently harvesting wildfire-blackened timber in the south Cariboo region of British Columbia. The fire-ravaged timber is the legacy from B.C.’s worst forest wild fire season, in 2017. Read about how they are approaching the salvage logging in this issue of Logging and Sawmilling Journal, beginning on page 20 (Cover photo courtesy of Southstar Equipment).

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