WEST COAST WILDFIRES TAKE A TOLL

Driven by a record-setting heat wave and fueled by growth from last winter's heavy rains, California wildfires have left a trail of devastation in their wake this week, reported the Los Angeles Times (see: "Scenes of 'zombie apocalypse' left in the path of California wildfires," by Meg Bernhard). "As of Wednesday evening, Santa Maria’s 29,000-acre Alamo fire — listed as 70% contained — had destroyed two homes," the paper reported. "The Whittier fire, 48% contained, had destroyed eight homes and spread through 12,000 acres. Hundreds of miles to the north, the 6,000-acre Wall fire had destroyed 41 residences and damaged three others. It was 60% contained."

NASA's Terra satellite captured this view of smoke streaming from the Alamo Fire in Santa Barbara County, California, on July 9, 2017 (Photo by NASA).
NASA's Terra satellite captured this view of smoke streaming from the Alamo Fire in Santa Barbara County, California, on July 9, 2017 (Photo by NASA).

"The blazes had spread rapidly during a heat wave, with the Alamo fire growing by thousands of acres overnight Friday," the paper reported. "The slight weather cool-down kept activity at a minimum Tuesday and Wednesday, allowing firefighters to improve their containment lines."

Smoke from the larger fires could be seen from space, NASA reported (see: "NASA Sees Streaming Smoke from Southern California's Alamo Fire").

Western Canada was also battling major blazes, Reuters reported (see: "Canada wildfires disrupt industry, force 14,000 from homes," by Ethan Lou). The fires halted lumber operations in heavily forested British Columbia, said Reuters: "West Fraser Timber Co said it had temporarily suspended operations at 100 Mile House, Williams Lake and Chasm. It said the sites have total annual production capacity of 800 million board feet of lumber and 270 million square feet of plywood."

Conditions are ripe for more wildfire in Canada, a government expert told CTV News (see: "'Summer of the fire': Senior climatologist doesn't see B.C. wildfires letting up"). “This will the summer of the fire,” said Dave Phillips, Environment Canada’s senior climatologist. “The rest of July and August will be warmer than normal and drier than normal.”

FRAMING LUMBER SHORTAGE? WELL, MAYBE ...

Framing lumber prices are up by about 30% compared to a year ago. The Random Lengths "Framing Lumber Composite Price," which reflects prices for a variety of commonly used species and sizes, hit $399 per thousand board feet in July, up from $350 a year ago, but down from the peak above $430 earlier in the quarter. But does that mean there's a lumber shortage? Some people think there might be, according to a report in the NAHB web journal Eye on Housing (see: "Builders Starting to Report Shortages of Framing Lumber," by Paul Emrath).

"In answer to questions on the May 2017 survey for the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index, 21% of single-family builders reported a shortage of framing lumber," NAHB reported. "Although still well below the share currently reporting shortages of lots and labor, this nevertheless marks a clear movement on the building materials front since 2014, when no product or material was cited as being in short supply by more than 15% of builders."

But as the NAHBNow blog notes, "For now, the majority of builders continue to have access to sufficient lumber supplies, albeit at prices much higher than a year ago. However, lumber prices recently began leveling off and dropping in most markets (see: "Lumber Shortages Encumber More Builders"). With the ongoing lumber trade dispute between the United States and Canada complicating the picture, lumber prices are definitely worth watching. But for the time being, shortages of labor and land are a bigger problem in most local markets.

STATE BY STATE

Florida: Production home builder DR Horton "has reached an $11 million settlement with the Majorca Isles Master Association, the Miami Gardens community that was left in the lurch after the builder pulled the plug on the project during the recession," reported The Miami Times (see: "Homebuilder settles with Miami Gardens association for $11 million," by Rene Rodriguez.

New York: Falling masonry from a church heavily damaged a neighboring house in Buffalo, reported WIVB News 4 (see: "Doing a good deed proves costly for demolition contractor," by Al Vaughters). "In the contractor’s efforts to save the bell tower, debris from the demolition slammed into the house, right through a basement wall, and the force of the old bricks and mortar caused parts of the structure to shift," the station reported. (See also: "Congregation members reflect as construction crews demolish century-old church," by Ali Ingersoll - WIVB News 4).

Texas: San Antonio's labor shortage is causing longer build times, according to a report by ABC station KSAT 12 (see: "San Antonio's construction boom up against labor shortage," by Jessie Degollado). Immigration enforcement, competition from the oil industry, and a surging market for new homes are all factors in the shortage, the station reported.

Pennsylvania: A home being renovated in Susquehanna Township, Pennsylvania, collapsed suddenly, pinning a worker under debris, reported Penn Live (see: "One hurt in Susquehanna Township structure collapse," by Paul Vigna). "They heard it cracking, they heard it start to fail, they started running, and he wasn't quick enough," said Susquehanna Township Fire Chief George Drees (see: "Construction worker injured as vacant house collapses in Susquehanna Township," by Sean Naylor - Fox 43).