As firefighting helicopters and ground crews worked to contain a now 160-hectare wildfire burning near Sayward on Wednesday, smoke grew even heavier in the North Island village where residents’ only way out is a one-lane bridge.
“You know it’s a single bridge, and it’s about time we get a new bridge over this,” said Hayward resident Tim Busch, who cycles across the bridge often.
The bridge is so narrow that Busch hugged the railing as trucks passed.
“It can be tight with logging trucks,” he said.
Yet Sayward residents say it’s necessary because the bridge’s crosswalk button doesn’t trigger a red light long enough to stop oncoming traffic.
“They’re coming from behind you, or they’re coming towards you,” said resident Wayne Pierce as he walked across the bridge outside the village.
The bridge is considered a relic from the past in Sayward and is believed to be the last single-lane bridge on Vancouver Island.
According to Pierce, it was originally put in as a temporary replacement bridge after a powerful storm in 1967 knocked out the previous bridge and killed two people when they crashed into the Salmon River below.
“It’s time, it’s time the government did what it promised it was gonna do. And it’s time for that bridge to be replaced with a two-lane bridge,” said Pierce.
He says he’s now worried about a tragedy due to the bridge since seniors and children frequent it on foot.
“I’m terrified something’s going to happen,” said Pierce.
“Somebody’s going to lose their life on that bridge, and it’s going to be because promises weren’t kept.”
With the current forest fire burning above Sayward, the village’s Mayor Mark Baker said the single-lane bridge would make a potential evacuation of the community even more challenging.
“I mean, of course, that’s a concern when you have one road out, and the other exit is the water,” said Baker.
According to Ministry of Transportation staff, the ministry does not have plans for replacement of the structure at this time. Adding that a re-decking project was just completed on the bridge, which has an estimated service life of 15 years for the decking components.
A forest fire continues to burn near Sayward’s doorstep, sparking concern about how quickly residents can get out.