Skip to main content

B.C. eyes reopening date for Vancouver Island highway closed by wildfire

Share

The province is hoping to partially reopen Highway 4 on Vancouver Island in late June, more than two weeks after the Cameron Bluffs wildfire first shut it down.

A large section of the highway, about 20 kilometres east of Port Alberni, has been closed since June 6 due to the wildfire, severing the only paved roadway between the island's west coast communities of Tofino, Ucluelet and Port Alberni from the rest of B.C.

On Tuesday, the province said it was tentatively planning on reopening the highway to single-lane alternating traffic in late June, as early as the weekend of June 24 and 25.

The province would continue to monitor the highway for about two weeks after that, with full, two-way traffic not restarting until at least mid-July.

The Cameron Bluffs wildfire is located on steep terrain and is causing debris, rocks and trees to roll onto the highway.

The province says wind and other weather conditions will play a large role in firefighting efforts and when the highway can be reopened.

"Although this section of the highway is short, the impacts have been significant," said B.C. Transportation Minister Rob Fleming.

"We are anxious to get the road open as quickly as possible. But obviously safety is our top priority and we cannot reopen the highway until we know the public will be safe," he said.

The province says it's conducting daily assessments on hazards in the area, alongside the B.C. Wildfire Service.

Some controlled cuts of trees are already underway to reduce the amount of debris falling onto the roadway.

Eventually, the province will install temporary safety measures, like rock containment nets and a rock catchment area, before the highway is reopened to single lane alternating traffic.

The wildfire area, located on steep terrain, is shown. June 13, 2023. (Province of B.C.)

The first step will include putting a temporary load-bearing wall along the eastbound lane of Highway 4, and a protective mesh suspended by cranes to block falling rocks and trees.

Fleming noted that the highway will not reopen as soon as the fire is put out. He says cleanup efforts and safety equipment must be in place before commuters can travel on Highway 4.

DETOUR IN EFFECT

A detour is in place around the fire, but the treacherous, 90-kilometre drive along logging roads takes approximately four hours to complete, and the province has warned that it should only be used for essential travel.

The narrow, gravel roads include 13 single-lane bridges, and there is no cell service or opportunities to overtake vehicles.

The province has set up four information checkpoints with "basic facilities" along the detour route, and is monitoring it 24 hours a day.

It's also watering the route to control dust, and is performing grading with fire spotters.

The detour route is shown. (Province of B.C.)

ESSENTIAL SUPPLIES

On June 11, the province also launched four daily commercial truck convoys along the detour route, which bring in food and fuel to the cut off communities.

Two of those convoys depart from Lake Cowichan towards Port Alberni daily, while the other two head east from Port Alberni to Lake Cowichan.

The province says approximately 550 to 1,000 vehicles are using the detour route every day, about 20 per cent of which are commercial vehicles.

Overnight, those totals drop to about 100 to 200 vehicles.

While the province is telling travellers to only use the route for essential purposes, there are no formal restrictions in place for its use.

"I want to acknowledge the uncertainty that this closure has caused, and I want to extend a deep thanks to the island communities affected by this closure," said Fleming.

The minister says he's grateful to everyone who has been working through the fire scene, including firefighters, commercial truckers and infrastructure workers.

FIREFIGHTING EFFORTS

As of Monday, 76 firefighters, four helicopters and 10 pieces of heavy equipment were assigned to the fire, as well as an incident management team, according to the BC Wildfires Service.

The fire measures approximately 254 hectares, and on Monday crews were working on strengthening containment lines around the fire.

One firefighter was injured on Saturday while tackling the blaze. They were airlifted to hospital, though the BCWS says it's unable to comment on the extent of their injuries due to privacy reasons.

CTVNews.ca Top Stories

BREAKING

BREAKING Guilty: Trump becomes first former U.S. president convicted of felony crimes

Donald Trump became the first former U.S. president to be convicted of felony crimes Thursday as a New York jury found him guilty of falsifying business records in a scheme to illegally influence the 2016 election through hush money payments to a porn actor who said the two had sex.

Stay Connected