UPDATED AT 3:30 P.M. WEDNESDAY, JUNE 7:
The Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District (ACRD) has closed its reception centre as a highway detour has been put in place. Highway 4 east of Port Alberni remains closed due to a wildfire burning out of control near Cameron Lake.
The fire, which is currently listed as 140 hectares on the BC Wildfire Service website, ballooned in size on Tuesday, June 6, prompting the province to close the only highway in and out of Port Alberni.
According to the province’s Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, the closure is “likely to last beyond the fire itself” because of damage to the road and instability of the slope.
The detour will route traffic from Port Alberni through to Lake Cowichan via Bamfield using forest-service and privately owned industrial roads. The gravel detour route has narrow sections, sharp curves, single-lane bridges and challenging terrain. There is no cell service, gas stations or washroom facilities on the detour route.
Regular passenger vehicles, such as cars, vans and commercial vehicles weighing less than 14,500 kilograms, can travel through the detour corridor. No over-height or over-weight vehicles will be permitted.
“The detour route extends travel by four hours and includes difficult driving conditions,” warns the Ministry of Transporation and Infrastructure. “It is strongly encouraged to wait to travel if possible.”
Information about the detour route can be found through an Emergency Travel Information button on the DriveBC homepage. Detour signage and traffic-control personnel will direct travellers through the detour at key decision points. Government staff and maintenance contractors will regularly patrol the detour to assist motorists if required, and information checkpoints will be set up at Youbou Road near Lake Cowichan and at Highway 4 at Aspeden Road near Port Alberni.
When the ACRD realized that the highway would probably be closed overnight on June 6, they activated their Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) and set up a reception centre at the Echo Centre for travellers stranded in Port Alberni overnight.
“We ended up with more than we anticipated,” admitted ACRD CAO Daniel Sailland. “The numbers shifted really quickly.”
A total of 160 people stayed at the Echo Centre overnight. There were also 50 students on a bus from Nanaimo that were able to stay at Alberni District Secondary School overnight thanks to School District 70, and an additional 30 people were able to find places to stay with friends or family. All of the hotels in Port Alberni were booked full for the night.
“There were a significant number of people staying in the Alberni Valley,” said Sailland. “As it became apparent that the road was not going to re-open last night, we reached out to the province and the province supported us opening the reception centre.”
The Salvation Army in Port Alberni provided dinner and breakfast for those at the reception centre, Sailland added.
“We couldn’t have done it without them,” he said.
Now that an alternate route has been opened, the ACRD says the reception centre will be closed. A Level 1 EOC will remain operational.