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Vancouver Island wildfire detour to close after vehicle rolls into lake

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A vehicle detour route that is serving as a lifeline between eastern and western Vancouver Island amid a raging wildfire will be closed for much of the day Friday.

British Columbia transportation officials say the four-hour detour connecting Port Alberni, Tofino and Ucluelet with the rest of the province will be closed to all traffic from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m.

The detour, which follows logging roads through remote and rugged terrain, was established Wednesday when Highway 4 – the only paved roadway connecting the east and west coasts of the island – came under assault by a wildfire near Port Alberni.

The closure is required for work crews and environmental specialists to extract a vehicle that rolled into Francis Lake along the emergency route, according to the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.

"All travellers are urged to avoid travel along the detour route before, during and after the closure because commercial trucks will be queueing for passage," the province said in a statement.

"The detour is along forest-service and privately owned industrial roads, includes single-lane bridges and challenging terrain, and adds an additional four hours of travel to the route. The province has asked drivers to avoid travel and only take the detour for essential purposes."

Drivers are urged to be prepared for long waits when the detour reopens. The province recommends travellers bring supplies, such as food and water, and avoid travelling the route outside of daylight hours.

Checkpoints have been established along the backcountry detour between Port Alberni and Youbou to provide travellers with route information.

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

Tanker trucks have been spraying water along the detour route to reduce dust amid persistent hot and dry conditions, though the roadway remains treacherous.

On Thursday, Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions said she does not expect the highway to reopen for several days, and has asked the province to open more forestry roads to bring in much-needed supplies to Port Alberni and other communities west of the wildfire.

The mayor said she was in discussions with the province about potentially opening logging roads around Horne Lake, northeast of Port Alberni, to commercial trucking. City officials have also contacted a shipping company about barging supplies into the port community, if necessary, she said.

The Cameron Bluffs wildfire was first reported early Sunday morning and had grown to more than two square kilometres on Friday. The fire remains out of control and is believed to be human-caused.

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