LYTTON, B.C. — A statement issued by the wildfire-ravaged Village of Lytton describes how little time residents had to flee and underscores the extreme challenges ahead for rebuilding the community.
It says village staff were alerted to the fire that spread “with ferocious speed” last Wednesday when someone banged on the office windows after business hours.
The statement says staff called Mayor Jan Polderman and the volunteer fire department but found firefighters were already battling the flames that razed the centre of the village.
RCMP officers were already evacuating residents along a downtown street when Polderman called 911, and then he contacted the Thompson-Nicola Regional District to let them know he was ordering a full evacuation.
It says conditions were extremely dry and a brisk wind spurred on the fire, which has so far charred 77 square kilometres of bush and is still classified as out of control.
In addition to two confirmed deaths, the statement says there were several injuries.
“We want everyone to know that their bravery was incredible in the face of this unimaginable horror,” says the statement, issued a week after the fire sparked.
The village’s top priority is locating and supporting residents, says the statement, which urges anyone who knows someone who was in Lytton last Wednesday to contact the RCMP if they haven’t heard from that person since the evacuation.
The fire destroyed equipment at Lytton’s emergency operations centre, it says, and staff are currently trying to work from “a couple of laptops, an iPad and our cellphones” in an office belonging to the regional district based in Kamloops.
Some properties on the eastern side of Highway 1 were spared, but the statement says they have no electricity, sewer or water services and all infrastructure that has not been “melted, incinerated or damaged beyond repair” is too unsafe to use.
“For those looking at heartbreaking pictures of our village, please understand that if a wall is standing, it does not mean there is anything on the other side of it.”
The regional district has offered to arrange buses to take residents to see the extent of the damage, the statement says, but that won’t happen until the BC Wildfire Service is certain there is no danger from fire or other hazards.
The village is working with the Provincial Health Services Authority disaster psychosocial services program to offer trauma and grief counselling, it says.
“In the coming days, weeks, months and years our hearts will break again and again as that trauma and loss is replayed in our minds and our souls,” the statement says. “But we are Lytton, we are strong and we will rebuild our homes and businesses, rekindle our friendships and community, stronger and more enduring than ever.”
Testing and an in-depth assessment will also be needed to determine the state of the community’s watershed and if it has been contaminated by fire retardant.
Power and phone crews are already assessing damage in the village, but the statement says CN Rail and CP Rail “will have no access” to Lytton, except to use rail-based vehicles to handle fire suppression on their respective rights-of-way.
The wildfire service says the number of firefighters assigned to Lytton Creek blaze is growing to 100 as a crew of 40 from New Brunswick joins a team of 60 from B.C.
Thirteen wildfires that are either highly visible or pose a potential safety threat are burning in B.C. The wildfire service says it’s handling more than 200 active fires, most of them in the southern Interior.
Of the estimated 17 wildfires sparked overnight, the service’s website shows eight were sparked by lightning and the cause of the other nine is unknown.
Lightning remains a threat for a large section of the southern Interior. Environment Canada has lifted all heat warnings in B.C., although air quality advisories linked to wildfire smoke remain posted across much of the Interior.