Free Press staff
UPDATE: The highway has reopened, and traffic has started to flow again, but is slow moving and congested.
A line of cars, about a half kilometre long are waiting for Highway 3 to reopen in Sparwood, heading eastbound to Alberta.
Mainroad closed the highway at the junction of Highway 43 yesterday afternoon after reports of smoke from wildfires near Coleman in Crowsnest Pass were nearly completely obscuring the view of the road.
The B.C. Ministry of Transportation has set a tentative reopening of the highway for 1:30 p.m.
“It’s been closed since late yesterday afternoon,” said Mayor Cal McDougall. The District of Sparwood set up a warming station overnight at the firehall. “The hotels are full. I’m sure the traffic is lined up, it always does when we have that closure.”
Those caught by the road closure were able to sleep overnight at the warming centre, where food was available.
Alternative routes are not readily available, however some motorists are choosing to backtrack to Cranbrook or Elko and take either a north or south detour.
“The only alternative route is back through Cranbrook and up through Radium,” said McDougall. “That’s a long diversion.”
Sparwood director of Fire Services, Dean Spry says that 12 people stayed in the warming station in the firehall last night, where there were beds set up, meals and showers.
“Some of them were contractors that work in the mines,” said Spry. “Some of them were just driving through.”
He says that all the hotels in the town were booked that evening, and even some restaurants were running out of supplies.
“We had probably around 30 plus tractor trailers with truck drivers in their own vehicles parked throughout the town,” he said.
He says that traffic is starting to line back up today, in anticipation of the road opening.
Alberta Wildfire Services say the fire is burning three kilometres outside of the town of Coleman.
Travis Fairweather with Alberta Wildfires says that over 20 firefighters as well as four helicopters and dozers from the Department of Agriculture and Forestry are battling the blaze.
He says there are also members of surrounding municipalities on site helping with the fire, which is currently 75 hectares large and less than three kilometres from the town.
“Certainly the biggest contributing factor was the high winds,” he said, which were gusting at over 100 kilometres per hour yesterday when the fire started.
“Any time you get a fire in the grass…it’ll spread very quickly when the wind picks up to those sorts of speeds.”
He says that other crews from elsewhere in the province of Alberta has been called in to assist.
“Crews have been mobilizing and making their way to the area,” he said.