Denise O’Connor is back in Lytton, B.C., living in the home where she spent her childhood years.
But it’s not where she was living last summer when a wildfire swept through the Fraser Canyon village and destroyed almost everything in its path, including the house with a river view where O’Connor, 63, lived for more than 30 years.
“I’m not kidding, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing with the smoke,” she said in an interview. “I saw trees on fire. I could tell buildings were on fire. I grabbed some things and we got in the car and left.”
The fire on June 30 roared through Lytton just one day after the temperature in the village hit an all-time Canadian high of 49.6 C.
O’Connor said after living in a motel in Kamloops, a temporary vacation rental in Merritt and with her daughter in Quesnel, she returned to Lytton in the fall with her husband Chris. They moved into her father’s home, which was missed by the fire.
“Everywhere we lived, it wasn’t home,” she said.
The possibility of future homecomings for Lytton residents recently took a step forward after more than seven months of inertia from the provincial and local governments, O’Connor said.
“We’ve been told so many times, soon, soon,” said O’Connor, who has raised concerns about the recovery process since the fire. “It’s going to happen soon. It never has. It’s moved way too slowly.”
Lytton Mayor Jan Polderman said he became emotional at a recent council meeting when he announced B.C. government funding of $8.3 million to support ongoing operations and recovery for the village.
“You’ve got to realize, I mean, the village was within a week or two weeks of not being able to meet its bills,” Polderman said this week in an interview.
“The Village of Lytton would have been no more,” he said. “We were broke. We’ve been broke for quite a while.”
The council has now started the long-awaited process of hiring a contractor to start removing debris before new homes can be built, possibly by this fall, Polderman said.
With so much infrastructure destroyed, Polderman said the municipality has a chance to rebuild differently, but it must weigh the costs.
Council has approved grant applications that allow it to explore plans for a new sewage system, net-zero building construction and an analysis of advancements in infrastructure, he said.