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Vancouver Island wildfire surges in size, forces rolling highway closures

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An out-of-control wildfire on Vancouver Island surged in size Tuesday, covering more than a square kilometre and forcing intermittent closures of the only highway to Port Alberni, Tofino and Ucluelet.

The wildfire near Cameron Lake, approximately 20 kilometres east of Port Alberni, reached Highway 4 on Tuesday morning, prompting the B.C. Ministry of Transportation to temporarily close a seven-kilometre stretch of the highway just south of the lake.

The highway was reopened to single-lane alternating traffic before noon, and the ministry issued a warning to drivers to avoid stopping in the area.

The highway was again closed in both directions before 4 p.m., with rolling closures and partial reopenings expected to last through the evening.

Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions says the ongoing closures along Highway 4 – the only major vehicle route in and out of the community – is a grave concern among residents.

"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," Minions told CTV News.

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

The B.C. Wildfire Service says air tankers and helicopters are supporting the efforts of ground attack crews, dropping water on the most inaccessible areas of the fire.

Louis Verheyen, owner of the Cameron Lake Resort, says he closed the resort's boat ramp – the only ramp access to Cameron Lake – to keep watercraft off the water while the aerial firefighting vehicles were scooping up lake water on Tuesday.

Provincial officials say the Cameron Bluffs fire, which was first reported early Sunday morning, is believed to be human-caused.

On Monday, the fire measured just 20 hectares before growing to 25 hectares Tuesday morning and 109 hectares by the afternoon.

The wildfire agency says 79 fires were actively burning in the province Tuesday afternoon, with 27 fires considered out of control.

Thirty-seven of the active fires are suspected to have been caused by lightning, 33 are believed to have been caused by people and nine are of unknown origin, according to the agency. 

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