An out-of-control wildfire has forced the closure of Highway 4 — the key highway connecting Port Alberni and the coastal communities of Tofino and Ucluelet to the rest of Vancouver Island.
The fire has also prompted the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District (ACRD) to open its emergency operations centre in response.
The road closure began Tuesday afternoon in response to the Cameron Bluffs fire, which by Tuesday evening had grown to 80 hectares in size.
It began with a restriction of traffic to a single, alternating lane, but escalated to a full closure around 3:30 p.m. The closure affects a seven-kilometre stretch between Cathedral Grove/MacMillan Provincial Park and Koen Road.
“This fire is highly visible and poses a potential risk to public safety, therefore the decision was made to close the highway,” the ACRD said in a media release.
“BC Wildfire Service continues to apply full response to the fire, which is continuing to spread and is not responding to suppression.”
“No stopping on the highway to view the fire,” DriveBC added in a tweet. “Watch for and obey traffic control present.”
It’s unclear how long closure will be in effect.
According to the BC Wildfire Service, the Cameron Bluffs fire is suspected to be human-caused.
It’s burning west of Highway 4, south of Cameron Lake. The service is encouraging drivers to use caution and focus on the road while passing, as the fire is “highly visible” from the highway.
“There is no threat to the highway or Cameron Lake resort areas,” reads a Tuesday situation update on the fire. “Boaters on Cameron Lake should stay clear of helicopter bucketing dip sites. ”
The attack area is only accessible through the Cameron Bluffs Trail. The trail remained open as of Tuesday afternoon.
Multiple crews of firefighters, two helicopters and floatplanes have been dispensed to extinguish the fire.
The ACRD has set up an emergency reception centre at Echo Centre in Port Alberni (4255 Wallace Street) which is open to people who are stranded and need somewhere to go until the road reopens.
Anyone stranded din Port Alberni overnight is being encouraged to reach out to friends and family for a place to stay, as hotel availability is low.