Many of the employees of Imperial Metals' Mount Polley mine, pictured, live in the wildfire-affected Williams Lake area and have been evacuated. Courtesy of Imperial Metals

The wildfires ravaging more than 400 square kilometres of British Columbia are taking an economic toll on the province’s mining sector, with multiple miners announcing reduced or suspended operations in July.

Taseko Mines temporarily idled operations at its Gibraltar mine due to road closures in the area, the company announced on July 17. While there are no fires in the vicinity of the mine, the closure of Highway 97 on July 15 made it impossible for employees to access the site.

“There are lots of people who want to work, but road closures are not our area of responsibility,” said Brian Battison, Taseko’s vice-president of corporate affairs.

Imperial Metals announced the same day it has suspended operations at the Mount Polley copper-gold mine, after first reducing them on June 10.

Many of Mount Polley’s employees live in the affected Williams Lake area in south-central B.C., where the Cariboo Regional District issued an evacuation order on July 15. More than 14,000 people have been evacuated from the city and surrounding area.

"Some of our employees have actually been evacuated and they have to make sure that their families are safe," said Steve Robertson, Imperial Metals' vice-president of corporate affairs. "We're working with that reality and supporting them in whatever way we can."

Imperial Metals’ nearby Red Chris project also has employees living in the Williams Lake area. The Williams Lake Airport that sends chartered flights for Red Chris employees has been shut down, so crews at that mine are also reduced and being reorganized.

EnGold Mines, another Vancouver-based exploration company, said on July 10 it had to suspend exploration at its sites, all of which are located in south-central B.C. The company said heavy smoke, closed roads and intermittent power outages have made continued operations unsafe and unworkable.

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Some fires are edging closer to Kinder Morgan’s Canada Trans-Mountain Pipeline that carries 300,000 barrels of crude oil and refined fuel from Alberta to B.C. every day. “At a number of locations we are taking preventive measures which include removing vegetation to create a fire break and adding sprinklers to keep the area wet,” said Hugh Harden, chief operating officer for the company via an emailed statement on July 11.

Additionally, about 30 to 40 logging companies and their mills have shut down and BC Hydro, the province’s main electricity distributor, reported 210 power poles and 33 transformers had been damaged as of July 14. It predicted there will be more damage as the fires continue to blaze.

The wildfires led the province to declare its first state of emergency since 2003, deploying some 1,600 personnel over the weekend to respond. Outgoing premier Christy Clark announced on July 9 that the government will provide $100 million in emergency funds.

As of July 10 several of the larger fires in the Williams Lake area – spanning 100 to 2,500 hectares each – were zero per cent contained. Added together, the fires in the province cover an area of more than 40,000 hectares, which is still significantly smaller than last year’s wildfires in Fort McMurray, Alberta which burned 589,000 hectares, an area larger than the province of Prince Edward Island.