Updated: Port Renfrew-Lake Cowichan road reopens

Crews have gained enough control of a human-caused forest fire near Lizard Lake to reopen the Pacific Marine Road that runs about 60 kilometres between Port Renfrew and the Town of Lake Cowichan.

The fire has been burning for about two weeks, approximately 11.5 kilometres northeast of Port Renfrew, and the road has been closed almost from the beginning. It is part of the Pacific Marine Circle Route connecting Victoria, Sooke, Port Renfrew, Lake Cowichan and Duncan.

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The opening of the connector route was effective as of 8 a.m. Tuesday, said Coastal Fire Centre fire information officer Marg Drysdale.

“The public is restricted from access to anything but the highway through,” Drysdale said.

In addition, no-stopping signs have been erected in places.

“We really want people not to stop because it is an ongoing situation,” Drysdale said. “It is an ongoing fire and we do have crews in the area, so follow all the signage and just keep going.”

Lake Cowichan Mayor Ross Forrest said the town’s tourist-information centre reported after the first week of the fire that the number of visitors was down significantly.

“It did have an impact on our community, without a doubt,” he said. “But the good news is it’s open again and nobody’s been hurt so far [by the fire].

In Port Renfrew, the opening is a relief for Ian Laing, whose businesses include the Wild Renfrew Seaside Cottages and Renfrew Pub.

Business hasn’t suffered too much, Laing said, “but we were in absolute record-setting territory when the fire started.”

Some people planning to travel the circle route cancelled rooms during the closure, he said.

The fire is still burning on both sides of the road, Drysdale said. It covered an estimated 393 hectares on Tuesday and was 70 per cent contained, with 81 firefighters and five helicopters involved in the suppression effort.

Mop-up procedures are underway in some areas.

The road opening was made possible after an effort by crews to clear up “danger trees” along the route left in the wake of the fire, Drysdale said.

“They have put some barriers up around the sides of the road because there was quite a bit of debris on that highway, so that’s to protect the public and for the safety of our crews.”

The regular posted speed of 60 kilometres per hour will be in effect.

Both the Lizard Lake and Fairy Lake recreation areas remain closed. A smoky-skies advisory Tuesday issued by the Ministry of Environment in collaboration with Island Health said conditions related to the fire were improving. Smoke concentrations at Cowichan Valley monitoring stations were low, but  effects are expected to widen this afternoon and evening in the south and central Island. Contributing factors will be the Lizard Lake fire and possibly Washington state fires.

The Coastal Fire Centre said members of the public have been helpful in reporting forest fires, and anyone spotting a column of smoke is asked to call  1-800-663-5555 or *5555 on cellphones.

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