Oregon Forest

A forest in Oregon on Oct. 28, 2016.

COOS BAY — After recent rains, many lumber workers have been able to return to work this week as fire levels in many areas are back down to a level safe for industrial work.

The State of Oregon has Industrial Fire Precaution Levels, which dictate the amount of work a lumber company can do while a fire is burning.

Last week, most of Southern Oregon was at a level four, which calls for complete closure of lumber industry while fires are being fought.

“We were down all of last week in Roseburg,” Steve Swanson, CEO of Swanson Group, said. Swanson Group is a lumber company that owns mills all over the state, including Coos County.

When the state posts a level one IFPL work for the lumber industry returns to normal. The requirements at level one are the same as the precautions companies take naturally during fire season. Small precautionary measures like workers carrying a water tank with them are required.

At level two, waivers are submitted by lumber companies for permission to operate. Certain equipment like power saws, feller-bunchers with rotary head saws, cable yarding, blasting, welding, cutting, and grinding metal, are only allowed between the hours of 8 a.m. and 1 p.m.

When the IFPL is increased to three, all work must be done between the hours of 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Todd Payne, the CEO of Seneca Sawmill, said “It’s not just the closures that hurt us. We own 167,000 acres in timber lands. We lost 1,000 acres in the fire.”

The age of the trees in an acre determine its worth. For example an acre of two year old trees may be worth around $600 to a lumber company, where as an acre of forty year old trees could be worth up to $10,000. 

“We were very fortunate, we didn’t lose any timberland in the fire,” Marketing Manager at Lone Rock Timber Dave Sutton said. “Our problem is strictly with closures, and log inventory.”

Log inventory is the reason that even mills end up shutting down during a level-four fire precaution level, because they can only mill the logs they have. There are no new logs coming in to be milled.

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