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Wildfires impacting tourism on Vancouver Island

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Peak tourism season is approaching for communities on Vancouver Island. But the impacts of a large wildfire burning near many popular tourist destinations is creating a slow start for sightseeing travelers.

Highway 4 is the only major road connecting the eastern and western parts of the Island, but it’s been closed for nearly a week due to a fire burning near Cameron Lake.

"They're making significant progress, but it's going to be just a slow go for them because of where it is,” Donna MacPherson, a fire information officer with Coastal Fire Centre said.

The fire, which started earlier this month, is believed to human-caused, and has grown in size to 254 hectares, despite the region seeing some rain Saturday.

"The bad news that comes out of precipitation is that people let their guard down because they think wildfire season is over,” she said.

There are no homes at risk so far, but businesses like the Wickaninnish Inn in Tofino is seeing the impacts.

"We've seen cancellations for sure, and we're seeing this time of year we look at occupancies at the mid-seventies to eighties in June and we're probably around half of that,” said Charles McDiarmid, the hotel’s managing director.

Other guests have chosen to fly in to the community instead, he says. Airlines including Tofino Air and Harbour Air have opened additional flights to help residents and tourists get to their destinations.

On top of cancellations, he’s also seen many guests extend their stay, due to inaccessibility of the highway.

Shannon Romjin has been planning a holiday to Vancouver Island since the spring for her 30th birthday.

The avid traveler from the Netherlands changed her plans last minute due to the wildfires and road closure.

"It's really disappointing because for us it's a 10 hour flight, and it's not like the cheapest of flights or the cheapest of holidays in general,” she said.

She lost her deposit to one of her hotels, but is optimistic her time on the Island in different locations will still be memorable.

"The wildfire is more important than me going for a couple of days in Tofino, but still it's disappointing."

A team of 76 firefighters are working to put out the blaze, along with 4 helicopters and 10 pieces of heavy equipment.

Transportation B.C. is urging only essential travel in the area if using the detour route around Highway 4.

Four piloted convoys are scheduled for commercial vehicles daily to and from Port Alberni to truck in essential supplies like fuel and food.

An update is expected Monday about when or if Highway 4 will reopen, according to transportation officials.

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