Highway 4 has been closed for the second full day due to the Cameron Bluff wildfire and western Vancouver Island communities are beginning to run low on supplies as people rush to fill their gas tanks and pantries.
The BC Wildfire Service says the fire is still burning out of control at 140 hectares in size, according to their latest update on Thursday, June 8.
But the fire, believed to be human caused, is in steep terrain. There are five helicopters and air tankers bucketing water in areas inaccessible to ground personnel. In addition, there are two crews made up of three or four persons and two pieces of heavy equipment directly attacking the blaze, where possible.
The BC Wildfire Service says it is staffing up resources based on fire behaviour - air tankers and skimmers have been assigned but weather conditions are limiting their operability.
But even if the fire were extinguished, Highway 4 will likely remain closed for a longer period as repairs are made. The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure says Highway 4 remains closed due to continued debris impact on the highway. Slope stability experts are engaged in assessment and decision-making for public safety on the highway.
A detour route has been arranged routing traffic from Port Alberni through to Lake Cowichan via the first part of the Bamfield route, using forest-service and privately owned industrial roads. The gravel detour route has narrow sections, sharp curves, single-lane bridges and challenging terrain. Visibility can be limited due to dusty road conditions. There is no cell service, gas stations or washroom facilities on the detour route.
The detour extends travel by four hours and includes difficult driving conditions. While there are checkpoints established along the route, it is strongly encouraged to wait to travel if possible.
With concern that larger, commercial vehicles that supply goods to Port Alberni may not be able to use the detour, people have been panic buying. As a result, some grocery shelves are bare and fuel pumps have been busy.
On the morning of June 8, Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions took to social media to reassure the people that supply chains to the city are not broken.
“Regular supplies will arrive in our community as normal, today, filling grocery store shelves and tanks at the gas station,” she wrote.
She went on to say that there are alternative methods of getting supplies into the city that can be activated, if necessary.
The best way to avoid low supply, she said, is to avoid panic buying, or buying more than you normally would. Minions says the city is asking people to buy only what they need.
“Let’s keep that Port Alberni ‘take care of each other’ attitude in mind at the grocery store and gas station today. We will get through this, as we always do,” said Minions.
It is not clear how the supplies will arrive in Port Alberni, but one container truck taking the detour rolled over at Francis Lake near Nitinaht Lake on June 7 and is partially submerged, according to Brian Tate, chief councillor of the Ditidaht First Nation.
“A container truck went off the road towards Nitinaht on Franklin River Road, on the pavement, and it went into Francis Lake – not totally into it, but it’s on the side and part of it’s in the lake.”
According to Tate, the truck was going through the detour route when it left the roadway, rolling onto its side. More than 24 hours later, the truck still lies partially submerged in the lake.
Tate said that DFO is on site and booms have been set up to contain anything leaking from the truck into the lake.
According to Tate, in order to safely remove the truck, the road would have to be closed, but authorities are not willing to alter the emergency detour route or close it until the vehicle can be moved.
Ha-Shilth-Sa has reached out to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure with questions about the safety of the detour route for fuel and supply trucks and when the truck in Francis Lake will be removed.
We will update when a response is received.