Photo by Joseph Trozzo

UPDATED: Hwy 93 reopens after rockslide blocks traffic in Fairmont Hot Springs

Highway at Fairmont between Dutch Creek and Westside Road blocked until geotechnical team can assess

Canal Flats resident Wayne Walters was on the bus headed to work this morning when a rockslide happened right in front of him. The slide stopped traffic and shut down the highway.

“We came around the corner of the hoodoos and it was like a wall of fog,” he said. “It was still rolling down the mountain, it was like a whiteout condition, and kind of eerie.”

Fellow bus rider Joseph Trozzo told the Pioneer the incident was “very sad and scary, and all we saw was a thick cloud.”

Mr. Trozzo has been riding the bus for 10 years, and has never seen anything like this before.

The slide on Hwy 93, between Dutch Creek Road and Westside Road in Fairmont Hot Springs happened before 8 a.m. Thursday, December 5th, and started probably a second or two before the BC Transit bus came around the corner, Mr. Walters estimates. The bus driver had immediately stopped. Once the view started to clear up a bit, he inched forward to see what had happened.

“A rock was in the middle (of the road). A pickup truck was caught on the side – sitting over top of the rocks, pushed against the barricade,” Mr. Walters said. He figures the driver was OK as the truck door was open. “If we were just a few seconds sooner, we probably would’ve been with that truck.”

The road was covered with a couple big rocks, smaller ones and even trees, Mr. Walters describes.

The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure responded to the Pioneer’s query Thursday afternoon via email. A ministry spokesperson reported that an “earth slope failure” brought approximately 200 cubic metres of rock, including two large earth boulders, down on the road along with some trees that came down the slope.

Maintenance contractor Mainroad East Kootenay secured the scene with traffic control and began cleanup, while a geotechnical team is on route from Nelson to assess the site.

“Once the geotechnical assessment determines that it is safe, and no risk of further rock fall, the maintenance contractor will clear the road.”

The ministry’s email reported there is no current timeline for reopening the highway, and people should continue to check DriveBC.ca and @DriveBC on Twitter for the most up-to-date travel information.

Columbia-River Revelstoke MLA Doug Clovechok lives just around the corner from where the slide took place. However, he is currently in Revelstoke on MLA business. Speaking by phone from Revelstoke, Mr. Clovechok said he has lived in the Columbia Valley basically his whole life, and that this is the first slide of this magnitude he has seen coming from the Hoodoos.

“With the exception of a few rocks coming off, I’ve never seen anything that big before,” he said.

Mr. Clovechok said this incident will give local drivers a sense of what it feels like in the Revelstoke region when they need to travel through Three Valley Gap, as they have concerns about rockslides throughout the year on that section of the Trans-Canada Highway.

He said he cannot answer whether this could be a going concern for the stretch of highway between Westside Road and Dutch Creek Road. However, he said, he will be in touch with the Ministry of Transportation as they do the assessment and find out more.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada and the Nature Trust of BC manages the Hoodoos Conservation Area. They released a statement Thursday afternoon regarding the park: “Due to the erosion event on December 5 that has blocked Highway 95 near Fairmont Hot Springs, the Nature Conservancy of Canada and The Nature Trust of BC have closed access to the Dutch Creek Hoodoos Conservation Area and the Hoodoos trailhead parking lot. The organizations request the public’s support in respecting these closures, which will remain in effect until further notice.”

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Photo by Wayne Walters

Photo by Wayne Walters

Photo by Wayne Walters

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