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Couple's Tofino wedding in limbo as road closure continues

Savannah Kreutziger and fiance Jesse Lee are supposed to be married on the beach in front of 40 people in Tofino’s Cox Bay on Saturday, but that’s not likely to happen

Savannah Kreutziger and fiancé Jesse Lee are supposed to be married on the beach in front of 40 people in Tofino’s Cox Bay on Saturday.

Rooms are already arranged at the Hotel Zed Tofino.

But with the out-of-control Cameron Bluffs wildfire continuing to keep Highway 4 to Port Alberni, Ucluelet and Tofino closed, there’s a good chance the wedding won’t go ahead.

That’s disappointing, but it’s safety that matters most to the 28-year-old former Nanaimo resident, who has been planning the wedding from her home in Prince George, and says she used to spend “almost every summer” in Tofino.

While there is a four-hour detour route on gravel roads via Lake Cowichan, Kreutziger is concerned about guests — especially older relatives — taking it and potentially running into problems.

She is also wary of the fire getting worse.

“My wedding is not a priority over people in Tofino,” she said Monday. “Why should I be going and doing my wedding if there’s people struggling there?”

She is prepared for the wedding to be cancelled or perhaps moved to a new location, depending on what happens this week. “I’m still waiting to hear back from a couple of my vendors,” she said.

Hotel Zed Tofino said it has seen several cancellations amid the fire and road closure.

Assistant general manager Myles Beeby said the hotel had 21 reservations at the start of the day on Sunday, and 15 were cancelled by check-in time at 4 p.m. Four others were no-shows.

Other weddings planned for Tofino have also been affected, Beeby said. “My wife is a wedding photographer and she’s lost $2,000 worth of business in the last week.”

He said he knows of at least one wedding that was held in Tofino by out-of-towners despite the challenges. He said he was told by the couple that the detour was “not for the faint of heart.”

As the road closure continues, some beaches and parking lots in the area are empty, and Beeby said things are getting tough for members of his staff, who are losing hours and could have a hard time making their rent.

“People are starting to kind of get a little bit tense about their finances right now,” Beeby said. “It definitely has early-pandemic vibes going on right now.”

After driving the detour route to his home in Port Alberni on Sunday, Brian Neal said he’s staying put unless there’s a medical emergency or a food shortage that would require him to drive to Duncan.

“It was incredibly dusty. There were parts where I couldn’t even see the end of my own hood and had to drive by just looking at the side of the road and hoping to get through that particular cloud so that you can get your speed back up,” he said of his three-hour drive, including two hours on gravel.

“There were some people that would drive in the middle of the road as opposed to sticking to the right hand side, so that could get a little dicey in certain spots.”

Neal, who had been vacationing in Victoria with friends and needed to return home for work, said they made sure to stock up on groceries in Victoria before they left.

He advised anyone taking the detour to take it easy, noting there are a few places on the route to pull over and let faster cars pass if needed. “If you’re going to drive that road, make sure you are going at a pace that you’re comfortable with and don’t let anyone behind pressure you.”

The wildfire at Cameron Bluffs has been holding at about 254 hectares for the past few days, and continues to burn in steep terrain that poses a challenge for firefighters.

The Transportation Ministry says it’s assessing the danger posed by trees and other debris falling on or near the highway, with experts examining the condition of adjacent slopes.

In some cases, the fire is burning into trees’ root systems and making them unstable, said Coastal Fire Centre information officer Shaelee Stearns. Trees deemed dangerous can be taken down before they pose a problem.

An update on the state of the highway is expected today.

Daily convoys of commercial vehicles are continuing on the four-hour detour route to maintain supplies of essential goods like food and gas in the west coast communities.

Seventy-six firefighters are working at the scene with four helicopters and 10 pieces of heavy equipment, hitting the blaze from both the south and the north.

Firefighters are staying at available lodging in the area, said Stearns.

Sections of the fire in areas inaccessible to ground crews are being dealt with from the air by helicopters dropping water.

On Saturday, an injured firefighter was transported to hospital via ambulance. A full investigation is expected to be done by the B.C. Wildfire Service and WorkSafeBC.

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— With a file from Michael J. Lo

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