AKD Softwoods’ Tumut sawmill will by the end of the week have shifted almost 100 per cent of its processing operation to the blackened logs coming from the Green Hills and Bago plantations scorched in the Dunns Road Fire.
AKD’s Tumut Facility Manager Warren (Rab) Green said that while it is possible to process burnt logs from the plantations, there are a few key differences between processing burnt logs and healthy logs, and the timeframe for processing the blackened pine is shorter.
Healthy logs that are still living are cut down based on age, class, length, diameter and varying features, but with burnt timber you just have to stock anything available and process it as quickly as possible, he said.
When burnt logs arrive at the mill, the first challenge is to wash off the charcoal and carbon.
On arrival the logs are kept under sprinklers to help with this process, because it needs to be done very fast. Burnt logs require a lot more water than healthy logs do.
“What we do then, is we try to get it through our de-barker as quick as we can,” Mr Green said.
This must be done quickly to stop any charcoal and carbon from making it to the middle of the log.
Mr Green described a de-barker as being “like a big apple peeler” that attempts to peel all the bark off the outside of the log.
The problem with burnt logs is that, depending on the intensity of the fire, the bark basically shrink-wraps itself to the log and is very challenging to remove. Water can help with the process, softening the bark and cleaning the log.
“Once it’s through the de-barker, then we store it [for] a certain time until we’re ready to put it through our mill,” he said.
The burnt logs are processed through the mill as per any normal log, however if there is still carbon on them, which is likely with burnt materials, it can affect the running of the mill and the equipment.
“It’s very course, carbon and charcoal, so what we need to do is just have more maintenance and more changing of our blades, and changing of our saws,” he said.
Additionally, there is a much shorter time frame for putting logs through the mill before they start to degrade.
He estimates that they will have 8-12 months to process the burnt timber.
“Because of the fire the tree has died, so then when you get water, heat [and] humidity you get insect attacks, you get mould attacks and it just goes off over time,” he said.
When the product starts to deteriorate, AKD will need to “drop the value of product from a high grade product to a low grade product” and “monitor that going through month by month.”
“We will get to a stage when we’ll say ‘we can’t cut any more of it because it’s too far gone’, but we don’t think that will be until potentially eight months’ time,” Rab said.
“We’ve done it before, but we’ve never done it on a scale like this where we’ve done 100 per cent burnt log.”
The Tumut timber industry has co-ordinated a timber recovery operation before, when fire ripped through the Bondo, Billapaloola and Buccleuch State Forests in 2006.
To combat the shorter time frame and the processing differences, AKD will be running additional hours and increasing their work force to be able to move through the burnt materials at a faster rate.
“The team’s keen to go; we know what we have to do and we’ll be looking at employing more people to try and get the place up an extra 15 or 20 per cent.”