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Vancouver Island businesses cut off by wildfire struggle with loss of customers, supplies


The first passengers to take advantage of a new connection between Nanaimo and Port Alberni took that opportunity aboard a Helijet flight on Monday morning.

“It’s a 20-minute flight and we’re going to be offering one flight in each direction, each day,” said Scott Speakman, a spokesperson for Helijet in Nanaimo.

The Ministry of Transportation is hoping to reopen Highway 4 to single-lane alternating traffic this weekend after the highway was closed by a wildfire. If that target isn’t hit, Helijet is considering extending the temporary service.

“The Cameron Bluffs fire is now under control,” said Kimberly Kelly, a fire information officer with the B.C. Wildfire Service.

With the fire now under control, 50 firefighters continue to work extinguishing hot spots with the help of a helicopter.

“Under that status, the wildfire will not spread any further,” said Kelly.

Still a lot of work needs to be done before the highway can be reopened.

The Ministry of Transportation has moved in 42 pieces of equipment and has 50 workers on site. To date, 124 metres of roadside barriers have been installed.

For those on the west coast of the island, the reopening can’t come soon enough.

“Things are definitely quiet in Port Alberni with the detour," said Jolleen Dick, CEO of the Alberni Valley Chamber of Commerce. “There is less traffic coming to town and that’s having a major impact on our tourism and hospitality businesses.”

Dick says some businesses can no longer afford to keep staff on the payroll.

“At my local coffee shop they told me that they laid off four staff that they just trained,” said Dick. “Then there’s contractors that aren’t getting their supplies so the work is delayed and so they have been laying off employees as well.”

Commercial trucks have been making the trek along the detour route, resupplying grocery store shelves and topping up gas stations.

“Businesses need financial relief and that is something we are advocating for,” said the chamber CEO.

Local business leaders are now conducting an emergency business-impact survey.

That information will be taken to both the provincial and federal governments in order to demonstrate the need for an alternative route to the west coast.

“But also to get that financial relief that businesses need right now,” said Dick.

People in Port Alberni are hopeful that an end is now in sight with the wildfire under control because they say the community can’t afford the closure to go on any longer. Top Stories

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