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Large-Scale Fire Salvage 

Avenor and Great West Timber mount the biggest fire salvage operation erver attmpted in northwestern Ontario at an 8,000 ha burn site near Upsala.

By John Dietz
Copyright 1997. Contact publisher for permission to use. 

In northern Ontario, Avenor and Great West Timber have successfully mounted a huge salvage operation in the wake of a series of fires last summer that spread over 8,000 ha near Upsala, about 150 km northwest of Thunder Bay. 

Foresters estimate that the area within the fire boundaries contained some 1.5 million M3 of timber, primarily jack pine with a mixture of spruce and poplar. Most of the timber, 50 to 70 years old and with butt sizes ranging from I 0 cm to 30 cm, would have been harvestable in five to 10 years. 

Post-fire surveys showed pockets of potentially salvageable material, where groundfire had only touched the base of the trees. With outside charring removed, the fibre was deemed usable for both chips and sawlogs, given workable economics in salvaging it. The window of opportunity for the targeted sawlogs was a maximum one year, after which insect infestation would remove this option. 

The two companies involved in the operation, which started in October of last year, hope to save about one-third or 500,000 M3 of timber. By May of this year, Great West had taken out the last of some 40,000 M3 Of sawlogs. At our visit early this summer, Avenor had salvaged some I00,000 M3 for chipping and was continuing work. 

"This has never been done before in northwest Ontario, but we couldn't afford to lose it all," says Ray Markham, technology development manager for Avenor Woodlands Northwest Inc. Avenor holds the management unit license in this area. 

Markham notes the operation would have been impossible but for an existing road infrasture that included both main and secondary roads; the latter were extended into the bum area. 

Reduced stumpage was another key factor. "The stumpage fee on softwood for the pulp mill right now is about $9 a cubic metre and $20 a cubic metre on sawlogs. For salvage, it's under one dollar," Markham said. 

Jim Fayle, operations manager for Great West Timber, coordinated sawlog salvage. "We built about IO km of road into the site, but it was relatively easy-going," says Fayle. 

Harvesting involved only standing green trees; brown or black stems were left. Sawyer beetles were already well into the standing green trees, Fayle notes. 

For harvesting, the company utilized two older Koehring 618 teller bunchers working with rubber-tired skidders. Work proceeded around the clock and sawlog harvesting was completed in about 10 weeks; the last load of sawlogs was hauled out of the site in May. 

Given the dry conditions, Fayle says particular care was taken during harvesting to keep the machines free of debris to reduce any further fire hazard. Soot and charcoal had to be cleaned off the machines constantly. "We had to clean machines every second day. Normally, we'd do it once a week," he says. 

Machine operators were instructed to leave charred sections in the bush. If the bottom of the tree was burned, the operator made the first cut high, then cut the damaged section at the butt and left it behind. Many spruce stems and trees with old injuries were often burned too deeply and had to be discarded. "We really had to watch carefully what we were cutting," says Fayle. 

At the mill, the debarking phase was also carefully scrutinized. All char had to be removed and any material deemed unsuitable for lumber was sent through a chipper for nearby pulp rnills. "We'd put 20 or 30 loads through at a time, inspecting it very carefully, and adjusting the debarkers as we went." Following debarking, the salvaged logs went into the ordinary mill flow. Grading was not affected. 

Given the reduced stumpage, Fayle says later cost analysis showed the operation came out similar to a normal cutblock. As salvage, it was welcome added fibre for the mill, he adds. While Great West Timber was taking sawlogs in one area, Avenor began its har- vesting and bush chipping operation in another area. Harvesting was with a Timbejack 628 buncher, also working with rubber-tired skidders. 

Avenor's most experienced chipping contractor, Technologic Timber, was hired for the project. Technologic is a stump-to- dump contractor with a reputation for only four did not meet the pulp mills' 'zero can go beyond this. "We did tests on tolerance' charcoal standard. thoroughly blackened, charred wood innovation. It brought the first bush chippers Operators, he notes, must spend more after putting it through both units. into northwest Ontario in 1989 and has time monitoring trees proceeding through Chemists from the mill said there was strongly focused on developing chipping the flails. For flails to work most effectively, still char in it. They could identify it and debarking methodology. trees need to be spread out rather than piled. through a microscope, so we haven't 

For the project, the company utilized a As well, the chains need more maintenance. been able to produce a quality chip with mobile double-debarking sytem. A Pattyson says probably twice as much pre- solid black trees." Peterson-Pacific 5200 delimber-debarker planning is involved, and overall production At bottom line, says Pattyson, the two was positioned in front of a Peterson-Pacific is lower. "The constant attention and main- salvage operations prove that timber haT- DDC 5000. Both machines are designed for tenance to machinery leads to about a 25 vest after a fire can be practical, profitable multi-stem feeding and equipped with log per-cent reduction in the quantity of chips and will have an impact on future harvest loaders. Working in tandem, the machines produced, compared to a normal operation. modelling. "It's obviously going to have an were aligned so wood flowed directly from in salvage, production capacity of the chip- impact on the amount of wood that flows one into the next. Peterson-Pacific says this per is about 50 cubic metres of wood chips into all the mills in northwest Ontario. is the first time the two units have been set per hour." When we write forest management plans, up for double-debarking on a large scale. Pattyson says the worst of the charred in the modeling process a fire frequency 

The 5200 was developed for delimbing wood was left in the bush. Initially, all simulation is built in. If we're losing only and debarking larger-diameter wood. It has charred wood was left behind, until it a portion of that (projected) volume, it two flails using 10-link chains, and can han- was determined how well the debarking could have a significant impact on model- dle heavy-limbed conifers that require extra system could deal with it. ing in the future." flailing power. The smaller 5000 delimber- "At this point, we are recovering Avenor's Markham says given the debarker-chipper has three flails, using approximately one-third of the fibre with- results, this won't be the company's last lighter eight-hnk chains. Working occasion- in the bounds of the fire,' says Pattyson. salvage project. "We will continue as long ally on its own, the 5000 proved best with "Two-thirds is too far gone, but that still as there are salvageable areas, or lightly charred stems. means we are recovering one-third of as long as the timber is still standing Geoff Pattyson, a consulting forester for the wood, which normally would be and merchantable." 

Technologic, says the system is working written off.,, Salvage operations will continue at the well; of the first 2,000 truck loads produced, He adds that it is doubtful if recovery site through to March, 1998.

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