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Concerns grow among residents, businesses over effects of Vancouver Island highway closure due to wildfire

Now entering its third day, the closure of Highway 4 due to a wildfire near Port Alberni, B.C., is causing growing concern among residents and businesses on Vancouver Island faced with an arduous detour for supplies and travel.

Hwy 4 closed indefinitely outside Port Alberni; logging-road detour for essential travel closed Friday

A photograph of orange cones, a road closure sign and a yellow contractor truck closing off Highway 4.

UPDATE, June 8, 2023: The transportation ministry announced Thursday the Highway 4 detour will be closed to all vehicles on Friday, June 9 from 1 p.m. until 9 p.m. as crews extract a vehicle that rolled into Francis Lake along the detour. Highway 4 will remain closed during this time.

Now entering its third day, the closure of Highway 4 due to a wildfire near Port Alberni, B.C., is causing growing concern among residents and businesses on Vancouver Island faced with an arduous detour for supplies and travel.

With no estimate of when the major east-west route on the Island will reopen following its closure Tuesday afternoon, there are fears it will result in event cancellations and affect tourism in popular destinations such as Tofino and Ucluelet.

"It's the talk of the town," said Ian Riddick, chef and owner at Heartwood Kitchen in Ucluelet.

"There are a few events this weekend that have changed significantly. I have one event that is probably going to cancel on Sunday night."

The province announced the closure of the highway due to the Cameron Bluffs wildfire, which began on the weekend and is burning near the road.

It's now closed indefinitely after officials determined that the fire was causing instability in the incline above the highway, which has caused debris such as uprooted trees and rocks.

"The safety of the travelling public is really first and foremost," said Janelle Staite, deputy regional director with the province's Ministry of Transportation.

"So even when the fire is under control, getting onto that upslope and embankment and making sure any of that debris is not going to pose a risk to the public is our No. 1 job."

On Wednesday, the province announced a detour to connect places like Port Alberni, Tofino, Ucluelet and smaller communities to the east coast of the Island, but cautioned that the route should only used for essential travel.

'Slow journey'

The detour extends travel time by hours, and features rough roads and some single-lane bridges. There is no cellphone service along the route.

"It's a narrow road, it really is meant for professional, commercial logging traffic," said Staite. "It is a very dusty road … it's a slow journey."

Staite told CBC News that several people on Wednesday had flat tires on the detour and a contractor is patrolling the route to provide assistance to those who have problems.

The province has also set up five check-points along the detour to offer support and has installed portable toilets in some locations.

But officials are urging people to not use the detour if possible and to wait out the Highway 4 closure if they can, even though no estimate has been given for when it will reopen.

Staite said commercial traffic, for food and supplies for west coast communities, is getting through so there is not a concern over grocery stores or essential services from running out.

Food trucks arrive on the west coast this morning. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/BCHwy4?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#BCHwy4</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/lizziepetra?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@lizziepetra</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/SkyeRyanCHEK?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@SkyeRyanCHEK</a> <a href="https://t.co/pxGMYWb7uX">pic.twitter.com/pxGMYWb7uX</a>


'The feeling is very tense'

Still, the highway closure is affecting life on the west coast of the Island.

"The feeling is very tense," said Daniel Hutchins with Mainroad Group, which is contracted by the province to maintain roads in the area.

"There's a lot of people on both sides of the closure that needed to go home, a lot of people commute through that area, so that's of course very stressful for people, as well as those from out of town that have travel arrangements to go through, catching ferries and things like that."

Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions, meanwhile, said the closure was "definitely a big concern for our community."

But Ian Riddick, the chef in Ucluelet, said residents are trying to take the closure in stride.

"We're definitely used to dealing with road closures and the like. Yeah, it's an adjustment as always, but everyone is hanging in there pretty good."


Chad Pawson is a CBC News reporter in Vancouver. You can contact him at chad.pawson@cbc.ca.

With files from Claire Palmer, Emily Fagan and CBC's On the Island

Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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