As BC Wildfire crews focus on gaining control of the quick-moving blaze that destroyed 90 per cent of Lytton, officials are working to determine any injuries in hopes that everyone was able to escape the town before the fire took hold Wednesday night (June 30).
“Because the fire hit so quickly people went to wherever they felt safe, so today the challenge is to find where everyone is and make sure we have a list of who is safe,” MLA Jackie Tegart told Black Press Media from her home in Ashcroft.
John Haugen, a deputy chief with the Lytton First Nation, says the nation is still trying to account for all of its members.
Part of the issue is a lack of cell service in the community, as well as people being forced to leave with little time to prepare.
In a statement on Facebook, Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon MP Brad Vis confirmed that some injuries had been reported but did not speak to what extent.
Evacuation centres have been set up in Boston Bar, Merritt, Chilliwack and Lillooet. According to 2016 census data, roughly 249 people live in the village municipality, with another 1,700 in the surrounding area.
Tegart said for many in the region, the moment they see smoke it “brings everything back” from the historic 2017 wildfire that destroyed much of Cache Creek.
“So many people experienced evacuation, loss of homes and properties – the rebuild after – and to wake up to smoky skies and hear what is happening in Lytton … it’s just the beginning,” she said, listing off other large fires burning in the province near 100 Mile House and Kamloops.
While much has been learned about fighting wildfires since 2017, this year has been unique due to the global pandemic.
“It is going to be challenging for people to feel comfortable around others and to feel safe,” Tegart said, calling it an added stressor on top of all that has happened in such a short amount of time.
Scott Hildebrand, chief administrative officer of the Thompson-Nicola Regional District, said the fire spread within minutes.
Composite created by Marty Anderson of Main Street in #Lytton (looking south).#BCwildfire news conference with @jjhorgan, @mikefarnworthbc, @EmergencyInfoBC and @BCGovFireInfo today at 1 p.m. PST. #bcpoli pic.twitter.com/LqQ1WIEMLO— Ashley Wadhwani (WAHD-WAH-NEE) (@ashwadhwani) July 1, 2021
He said the evacuation order for the village was issued as soon as possible.
“It didn’t matter because people were already fleeing,” Hildebrand said.
A reception centre was set up in Kamloops while another one was being planned in Merritt; however, he said regional districts did not yet have anyone registered at the centre in Kamloops.
The few hotels around Lytton had already been booked by people trying to escape the scorching heat wave, those who’d booked a room for Canada Day as pandemic restrictions lifted, and by crews working on a pipeline project.
At least three major wildfires were burning in B.C. before the one in Lytton roared out of control. The fire is currently burning at roughly 8,000 hectares in size but expected to grow due to dry and windy conditions.
At least 71 wildfires remain active in the province.
– with files from The Canadian Press
Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.