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Fatal highway explosion causing supply chain issues in B.C.’s far north, local chamber says

Grocery stores are running low on supplies, and some restaurants in Fort Nelson, B.C., have had to temporarily close, due to traffic restrictions following the deadly crash of a tanker truck on Highway 97 last Thursday, according to the local chamber of commerce.

The bridge was closed after the truck — travelling northbound with a large volume of natural gas condensate — lost control, flipped to its passenger side and exploded, killing the driver.

Kim Eglinski, the president of the Fort Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce, said that Save-On-Foods, IGA and several fast food establishments have faced difficulties receiving shipments in the aftermath of the accident.

“My understanding is that both grocery stores will have trucks coming tomorrow [Tuesday]. They’ve taken a different route,” Eglinski said.

Highway 97, or the Alaska Highway, is a popular tourist route from Dawson Creek north through Fort Nelson and into the Yukon and Alaska. It is also a primary route for people in Fort Nelson to access supplies and services from the city of Fort St. John and other communities.

In an emailed statement to CBC News, the RCMP say the bridge was reopened on Monday to commercial vehicles under 15,500 kilograms that have weight verification and pre-approval from the provincial government.

Commercial vehicles can access Fort Nelson from the south through the bridge, from the west via Highway 97 or from the north via Highway 77.

Other vehicles, including passenger cars, light pickup trucks, travel trailers and recreational vehicles, have been able to cross the bridge, which has been open to single-lane, alternating traffic since Saturday morning.

Flames and a plume of black smoke rise from a burning commercial tanker truck carrying natural gas condensate that exploded last Thursday on the Sikanni River Bridge. (Neil Evans/Facebook)

Eglinski says when the bridge was completely closed, many southbound travellers driving from Alaska were stranded in Fort Nelson, and many local residents had to cancel their medical appointments in Fort St John and other communities in the south. 

The Mounties say an investigation into the truck explosion continues, and there is no anticipated timeline for the full reopening of the bridge or the completion of repairs.

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