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Extended highway closure expected due to wildfire near Port Alberni

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There's no end in sight for the closure of Highway 4 on Vancouver Island – the only highway leading to the communities of Port Alberni, Tofino and Ucluelet – due to a wildfire burning in the area.

On Wednesday morning, the B.C. Ministry of Transportation said the Cameron Bluffs wildfire continues to make driving unsafe on a roughly seven-kilometre stretch of Highway 4, between Koen Road and Cathedral Grove.

The B.C. Wildfire Service says the Cameron Bluffs fire was discovered around 6 a.m. Sunday when it measured less than half a hectare south of Cameron Lake. (B.C. Wildfire Service)

"Damage to the road and instability of the slope above the highway means this closure is likely to last beyond the fire itself," said the ministry.

The fire is approximately 140 hectares large and is considered out of control, according to Coastal Fire Centre fire information officer Kimberly Kelly.

Twenty-six firefighters are managing the blaze, alongside five helicopters and several air tankers.

"The fire is on steep terrain and crews are being challenged by rolling debris and [dangerous] trees," said Kelly.

On Tuesday morning, the fire neared the highway, approximately 20 kilometres east of Port Alberni, prompting the highway to close.

At different points Tuesday, the highway reopened to single-lane alternating traffic. By Tuesday evening, however, the highway was closed in both directions.

The highway remained closed Wednesday, largely because debris from the fire was rolling onto the roadway, according to the Coastal Fire Centre.

Kelly says that the province has brought in "slope stability experts" to assess the scene and ultimately make decisions regarding the opening of the highway.

She adds that the fire is four kilometres away from Cathedral Grove, which is known nation-wide for its large and old trees, and does not threaten the forest at this time.

"There are no evacuation alerts or orders in place at this time," said Kelly.

"We do encourage people to stay connected with their local government resource as that will be the place to find out the most up to date information on evacuation alerts or orders."

Detour in place around Hwy. 4

A detour is available by using industrial forest roads, according to the Ministry of Transportation. However, the province recommends people only use the detour for essential travel.

The province estimates the detour route, between Lake Cowichanand Port Alberni, will take drivers approximately four hours to complete, with slow moving traffic conditions and no room for passing other vehicles.

The industrial forestry roads may also include rough gravel patches and steep turns, and there is no cellphone coverage along the route, as well as no food, washrooms or fuel stations.

The province also warns that there will be limited access for emergency services to navigate the forestry roads, and that hot and dusty conditions will make the detour route "difficult to drive."

Drivers are encouraged to only take the route during daylight hours and bring extra food, water and other supplies. Over-height and over-weight vehicles are not permitted on the detour route.

A map of the detour route can be found below.

The detour route is shown. (Province of B.C.)"Drivers are reminded to obey all signage and traffic-control personnel as crews respond to the changing situation," the ministry said.

Vancouver Island smoke advisory

A smoky skies bulletin was also posted for the inland Vancouver Island region Wednesday.

The province warns that wildfire and smoke conditions could impact people's health, especially people with pre-existing health conditions, respiratory infections, older adults, pregnant women and infants.

The province recommends that people avoid strenuous activity if they feel unwell, and to drink plenty of fluids and stay cool.

The Cameron Bluffs wildfire was first reported early Sunday morning and is believed to be human-caused.

It measured just 20 hectares Monday before surging to 109 hectares by Tuesday afternoon.

On Tuesday afternoon, the BC Wildfire Service said air tankers and helicopters were helping ground attack crews by dropping water on the hardest to reach areas of the fire, which is located on steep hills.

The Cameron Bluffs wildfire is pictured. June 6, 2023, (BC Transportation/Twitter)

Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions said the ongoing closures along Highway 4 are concerning for the community.

"We've all seen situations like this escalate in other parts of the province over the last few years with some of the really significant and severe forest fires," she told CTV News on Tuesday.

"We have to be able to truck in goods, we have to keep our families safe, obviously, as we navigate through this," she said.

The BC Wildfire Service says an update on firefighting efforts will come Wednesday afternoon.

With files from CTV News Vancouver Island's Todd Coyne

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