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Wildfire held, but Port Alberni highway connection to stay closed at least a week

Cameron Bluffs wildfire ‘being held’ at 254 hectares but traffic won’t return until safety assured
The Cameron Bluffs wildfire along Highway 4 is currently “being held.” (PHOTO COURTESY BC MINISTRY OF TRANSPORTATION AND INFRASTRUCTURE)

Highway 4 east of Port Alberni will remain closed for at least another week, says the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.

The ministry provided an update on the highway during a press conference in Chilliwack on Tuesday, June 13. The highway has been closed for a week due to a wildfire burning on Cameron Lake Bluffs, near Angel Rock on Vancouver Island’s Highway 4.

READ MORE: Alberni Valley visitors’ centre handles hundreds of requests from stranded travellers

According to Transportation Minister Rob Fleming, the highway will remain closed for “at least” another week. When it does re-open, Fleming says drivers can expect the road to be single-lane alternating around the Cameron Bluffs site.

“We are anxious to get the road open as quick as possible,” said Fleming. “But obviously safety is our No. 1 priority and we cannot re-open the highway until we know that the travelling public will be safe.”

Janelle Staite, deputy director for the ministry, said that a 1.5-kilometre section of highway has been impacted by the fire. Although the pavement condition remains “intact,” Staite says some pieces of roadside barrier have been dislodged and require repairs.

The slope above the highway also remains intact, but debris on the slope has been “loosened” by the wildfire, and there are concerns around trees and rocks continuing to fall onto the highway. So far, two dozen trees—some of them more than a metre in diameter—have fallen on the highway, said Staite.

“Even today we are seeing rocks the size of coffee mugs coming down onto the highway,” she said.

Before highway crews can start work on repairing the roadway, BC Wildfire Service will be undertaking an assessment of the slope. The fire caused “significant” impact to the stability of trees above the highway, so there will be controlled cuts of trees to eliminate these hazards. Some rock containment netting will be installed along the highway to catch any material coming down the slope.

Staite warned that a weather system will be coming in with rain later this week, which may slow these efforts. She emphasized that the mountainside above the highway is steep and topography has been dangerous for crews.

By next weekend (June 24-25), Staite says the ministry hopes to have Highway 4 re-opened to single-lane alternating traffic. A full re-opening of the highway is tentatively planned for mid-July.

In the meantime, a detour route has been opened between Lake Cowichan and Port Alberni via Bamfield Main, but drivers are being asked to use the road for “essential” travel only, as the priority for the detour is to ensure the movement of goods like food and fuel. This detour will remain open even after Highway 4 re-opens to single-lane alternating traffic.

READ MORE: B.C. tourism leader predicts strong tourism season if fires are doused

As of Tuesday morning, the Cameron Bluffs wildfire was being held at 254 hectares and no longer considered out of control, which means it is “not likely to spread beyond predetermined boundaries under current conditions.”

Over the coming days, fire crews “will continue establishing control lines, assessing and falling danger trees where accessible and mop-up.”

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Elena Rardon

About the Author: Elena Rardon

I have worked with the Alberni Valley News since 2016.
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