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Cameron Bluffs fire under control, work underway to reopen stretch of Highway 4

The goal is to have alternating single-lane traffic on Highway 4 by next Saturday.

The status of the Cameron Bluffs wildfire along Highway 4 has improved from being held to under control on Saturday.

The B.C. Wildfire Service said that means the human-caused fire that started June 3 and scorched 229 hectares is not expected to spread any further due to suppression efforts by firefighters and equipment.

“Fire behaviour is decreased and is currently displaying a smouldering ground fire with some open flame,” the wildfire service said in an update Saturday morning.

The “under-control” status signifies that the wildfire service will continue to patrol the fire and extinguish hot-spots while moving gear, equipment and personnel to another incident. As of Saturday, 108 firefighters were still at the fire, as well as three helicopters and four pieces of heavy equipment.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Transportation said work continues on the cliff sides along Highway 4 where the fire has brought trees and rocks tumbling down to the roadway. The seven-kilometre stretch between Cathedral Grove and Koen Road has been closed since June 6, and has severed the main transportation artery for Port Alberni, Tofino and Ucluelet. A detour route runs between Port Alberni and Lake Cowichan via the Bamfield area using forest-service and privately owned gravel roads.

That section of Highway 4 is expected to open next Saturday, initially operating with single-lane-alternating-traffic, with a full reopening anticipated in mid-July.

“We still have a fair bit of hot rockfall coming down,” said Susan Randle, an engineer with the Ministry of Transportation. “That rock has all been burned up so it’s fracturing and spalling off as time goes by.”

The wildfire service noted that “everything that was holding anything together [on the cliff sides] is gone … it’s burnt away.”

Assessment of slope stability and dangerous trees continues and crews are clearing debris and removing unsafe trees, said Randle. A temporary wall will be built along the eastbound lane above the fire zone and protective mesh suspended by cranes will act as a barrier to catch falling rock and trees.

The Ministry of Transportation is warning travellers the detour adds about four hours travel time, with potentially slow-moving traffic, no passing, single lane bridges, sharp turns and gravel sections. There is also no cellphone network coverage or food or fuel facilities, and limited toilets and emergency services. It’s also dusty, so drivers are being told to turn on their headlights and carry extra water.

Two other wildfires continue on Vancouver Island.

The Anutz Lake fire near Port McNeill, sparked by a vehicle fire on Wednesday and estimated at about eight hectares, is being held. Two helicopters are assigned to the blaze.

The Newcastle Creek fire that has burned 230 hectares six kilometres west of Sayward — and also being investigated as human caused — is listed as being held and not expected to spread any further.

Fire crews are working about 80% of the fire area, according to the wildfire service; the remainder of the fire is burning on extreme slopes creating hazardous work conditions with falling debris.

“Their highest priority is to prevent eastward spread of this fire toward the community of Sayward,” said the wildfire service. “Crews are developing alternative containment strategies and contingency lines are being planned. Public may see active fire behaviour in the upper slopes of this fire during the hottest part of the day.”

Environment Canada is forecasting cooler temperatures Sunday through to Tuesday with chances of showers in the Port Alberni area. Showers are also forecast for Sunday in the Port Hardy region.

dkloster@timescolonist.com

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