Canadian town burned to ground, faces wildfires anew

A wildfire west of Lytton, B.C., has burned at least half a dozen homes but is spreading in the opposite direction of the village, officials said Friday.

John Haugen, deputy chief of the Lytton First Nation, said conditions remain critical a day after the fire broke out about two kilometers northwest of Lytton across the Fraser River.

“It was really scary. Sometimes there’s no power here and we’re running out of water east of the Fraser River,” he said during the interview.

A small boat crossing the river was out of service due to the high water level, making it difficult to move resources to the fire on the west side, he said.

The fire comes a year after a devastating wildfire swept through the same region, leveling the city center and displacing many residents who have yet to return to their homes.

It has burned at least 15 square kilometers since it broke out Thursday and is spreading across steep terrain on the west side, the BC Wildfire Service said. About 80 firefighters are on the scene.

The Lytton First Nation and the Thompson-Nicola Regional District have issued evacuation orders and alerts for dozens of properties west of the river. Cell service has been restored despite some initial connectivity challenges unrelated to the fire, and Haugen believes all residents are aware of the situation.

At least six residential buildings were lost, although the number may be more than nine, and authorities are trying to contact the affected residents.

“It’s terrible, so we have to figure out how to deal with them and justify those losses.”

Forestry Minister Catherine Conroy said the fire was not currently a threat to the village of Lytton. Crews successfully contained the fires that jumped the Fraser River Thursday night, she said.

Six homes destroyed, no injuries reported in ‘horrendous’ wildfire west of #Leathon, #BC . #Wild fire

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said the fire was still classified as out of control, but models said it did not threaten other communities. He added that no one was injured.

“I know this is a very stressful and emotional situation as the community works to rebuild after last year’s devastating Lytton Creek fire. And I know this has been challenging for BC Wildfire Service personnel, many who responded to last year’s incident,” said Farnworth.

BC Wildfire Service spokesperson Taylor Coleman said earlier Friday that the fierce fire was being fueled by wind and high water, a lack of roads and steep terrain made access difficult.

Winds of 30 to 40 kilometers per hour Friday afternoon were pushing the fire west away from the community, according to the Wildfire Service.

Three 21-person crews and three first responders were battling the blaze, the service said. They were supported by six helicopters, three air tankers and a lead aircraft known as the Bird Dog.

Premier John Horgan said on social media that his thoughts are with the people of the area.

“To face a second wildfire a year after the devastation they experienced is unimaginable,” he tweeted. “We appreciate the staff working to keep people safe.”

Tricia Thorpe, who lives in the area, said the fire was bringing back memories of last year’s bushfires which destroyed much of Lytton.

In an interview with The Canadian Press, she said, “It’s horrible. I feel for the firefighters in the area.”

“They are a great, caring group of men and women and for them to experience this at home, again, it must be gut-wrenching.”

Thorpe called them “Westsiders” at heart, meaning those who lived on the west side of the Fraser River beyond Lytton.

“They were the ones who welcomed us into their community when we lost everything in the Lytton bushfires last year,” she said.

Evacuees were told to travel to emergency reception centers in Lillooet or Cache Creek.

– By Amy Smart and Colette Dervoriz with Hina Alam File.

This Canadian Press report was first published on July 15, 2022.

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