Fuel Truck spill closes Tofino highway, stranding travellers overnight

By Denise Titian, June 16, 2017

A tanker carrying aviation fuel tipped on Highway 4 east of Ucluelt Junction on Thursday, closing down the road for over 24 hours. ( Facebook photo)

Highway 4 — 

A tanker hauling aviation fuel tipped over on the Tofino highway near Hydro Hill and Kennedy Lake on Thursday, June 15. The accident occurred about 3:00 p.m., stranding commuters on both sides.

Some travelers were able to get around the truck by single-lane, alternating traffic shortly after the accident - but it wasn’t long before the road was closed in both directions. Crews worked to remove the tanker and clean up the spilled fuel.

A man traveling back to Port Alberni shortly after the accident occurred shared a photo on social media, saying, “(we) could really smell the fuel. My passenger took this picture as we drove by.”

Early reports said the road would be closed until 7 p.m., then 9 p.m.. Eventually, Drive BC stated the road would be closed overnight, possibly re-opening on the evening of June 16.

There are logging roads on both sides of the accident scene but none that link the west side to the east. Stranded travellers were left with three options: travel by boat, float plane or wait it out.

It wasn’t long before people stranded on the west coast began looking for alternative routes.

There are Nuu-chah-nulth-aht graduating from North Island College in Port Alberni; some have medical appointments while other are trying to get to the NTC Youth Gathering in Nanoose.

Then, there are the Nuu-chah-nulth people that commute Highway 4 for work.

Cermaq Canada, an aquaculture company operating out of Tofino, was doing a regular shift change, sending camp and plant employees home for their days off. One bus load turned back to Ucluelet, spending the night there while the other bus load remained in Tofino. They were put up in local hotels.

With no foreseeable opening of the highway, the company planned to send their workers through to Port Alberni on the MV Frances Barkley. The trip from Ucluelet to Port Alberni takes 5 1/2 hours, according to the Lady Rose Marine Services schedule. The Frances Barkley leaves Ucluelet at 1:30 p.m, arriving in Port Alberni at 7:30 p.m.

Some water taxi operators from Port Alberni and the west coast offered to transport passengers through the Alberni Inlet.

Some stranded travelers looked to share $500 float plane charters to get to where they needed to go.

And then there were those that took the lemons and made lemonade. Some planned to do their traveling later in the day, whenever the road opens up. Others, like the stranded college graduates that can’t be at their graduation ceremony in Port Alberni, appear to be making plans to have their own little celebration.

“Congratulations to the Ahousaht ECCE Graduates…so many of us wanted to be at the ceremony in Port Alberni today to celebrate with you and the road closure has given us an opportunity to create new celebration plans. Know that we are incredibly proud of each of you,” wrote Anne Atleo.

The Drive BC update from Friday, June 16 at 11 a.m. indicated that the road was still closed in both directions 33 kilometres east of Ucluelet Junction because of vehicle Incident. “No detour available. The estimated time of opening to single lane alternating traffic is 4 pm. Next update 2 pm.”