Drivers checking Drive BC for road conditions may have noticed travel advisories for highways in the Ashcroft, Cache Creek and Clinton area. The advisories warn drivers for potential debris flows and not to stop during rainfall. It further advises drivers to plan for highway closure in the event of heavy rain. The policy is unique to the area.
It also appears to be a more proactive approach than the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure took last year when it said “it is not practical to close all highways in burn zones each time it rains.”
The area was hit repeatedly by mudslides in 2018 following the Elephant Hill wildfire in 2017 that makes them more vulnerable to debris flows.
“During periods of potential rainfall, staff will be increasing monitoring and travel advisories may be issued to minimize the risk to the public,” according to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure following the recent advisories.
“This protocol is unique to this area and has been prepared through extensive consultation with geotechnical engineers.”
In 2018, one of the mudslides swept a woman, Valerie Morris, off the road. No travel advisory was in place at that time. Her body is still missing.
Documents obtained by the Free Press through a Freedom of Information request surrounding mudslides on that day showed a MoTI Geotechnical Group engineer was not comfortable with re-opening some of the highways immediately after the mudslides. However, the documents did not mention the heavy forecasted rain prior to the occurrence of the initial mudslides, considerations of closing the highways or issuing a travel advisory nor any engineering assessments outside of a small area (10 Mile Slide) on Highway 99 on the day of the slides or the day prior to the slides (Aug. 10 and 11).
Immediately prior to those mudslides occurring, a ministry spokesperson was unaware if they would be issuing any travel advisories and that the spokesperson hadn’t been linked into anything regarding the Environment Canada forecast.
Following the slides in 2018, the ministry seemed to suggest there was little they could do.
“It is extremely difficult to predict where and when slides will come down and to close all highways downslope of wildfires every time it rains is not practical. We must balance the risks with the considerable consequences of each decision.”