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'Deeply concerned': Tofino tourism industry hard hit by wildfire closure

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Tourism operators in Tofino are feeling the affects of the closure of Highway 4, the only paved road connecting the Vancouver Islands' west coast with the rest of B.C., due to a wildfire.

On Tuesday afternoon, the province said it did not expect to reopen Highway 4 until at least the weekend of June 24 and 25, about three weeks after the highway initially closed on June 6.

Brad Parsell, executive director of Tourism Tofino, says the community is grateful for all the efforts underway to fight the Cameron Bluffs wildfire, which has closed the highway about 20 kilometres east of Port Alberni.

The timeline for when the highway will reopen, however, was difficult to hear for tourism operators in the town.

"We were hoping to hear a much more expedited reopening of that route to the west coast," said Parsell.

"This is going to have an even larger impact than we had initially feared for businesses here on the west coast. But we certainly can appreciate that this is an evolving situation," he said

Since the highway closed a week ago, Parsell says some businesses have already felt a "significant loss."

"We're looking at hotels who have lost between 50 to almost approaching 100 per cent of their business over a matter of days," he said. "The loss of revenue has been felt across the board for our businesses."

Parsell says the economic hit means some operators have also cut hours for workers, which is having an impact on the town's workforce.

"Seasonal workers don't qualify for [employment insurance] for various reasons, so all of a sudden we're deeply concerned about our workforce in the tourism industry," he said.

CALLS FOR SUPPORT

Parsell says people can support Tofino by not cancelling their bookings and instead rescheduling them or collecting a voucher.

Buying gift certificates or future bookings will also help operators keep the lights on, he says.

Local airlines have also increased the number of flights they're providing, Parsell says, providing people with alternate means of reaching the community.

A detour route has been set up around the Highway 4 closure, though the province has urged people to only use it for essential travel purposes.

The detour route uses logging roads and takes approximately four hours to complete, stretching across 90 kilometres between Lake Cowichan and Port Alberni.

Last week, couple Sebastien Foellmer and Hope Moir said they were still committed to having their weding in Tofino, and most of their guests – more than 70 – promised to take the logging roads to get there.

The couple provided their guests with a list of what to bring to make the trek, including water, spare tires, extra gas, and more, but understood if people didn't feel comfortable making the journey.

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.

Parsell says it was heartening to see those commercial vehicles arrive, and that they were a reminder that people on the West Coast do not need to panic buy with essential supplies still arriving in the community.

If the province's timeline holds, Highway 4 will reopen to single lane alternating traffic in late June, before completely reopening to two way traffic in mid-July.

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