“We are a small community that has been devastated and we are all still reeling from the destruction of our homes, the tragic loss of life and the enormous impact this will have on us, both personally and financially, for years to come.”
That’s how the Village of Lytton is describing the situation of the past week in an open letter Tuesday (July 6), after a wildfire forced the entire community to evacuate on June 30. The fire destroyed more than 90 per cent of the village, including, the letter notes, their Emergency Operations Center.
“We have begun replacing all of our technology as well as basic office supplies. In the interim, we have set up our EOC in an office in the [Thompson Nicola Regional District] building and are currently trying to operate it from a couple of laptops, an iPad and our cell phones,” the letter states.
“A few buildings survived in town but nearly every home in the centre of the Village is gone. Where many buildings stood is now simply charred earth; it is going to take in-person assessments to determine the actual state the damage.”
Village staff found out about the blaze when someone banged on the office windows after hours. The staff contacted Mayor Jan Polderman and Lytton firefighters, who were already fighting the blaze. Then the village, which was already partially evacuated, was ordered to evacuate fully immediately. The evacuation happened quickly, just ahead of a fire that was spreading with “ferocious speed,” accelerated by a brisk wind and extremely dry conditions.
None of the buildings that do remain have access to power or hydro, and Telus and BC Hydro will be in the village to cap services that might present a danger to first responders. Telus has also brought in a mobile cell tower to improve service in the region for fire crews and police.
“What has not been melted, incinerated or damaged beyond repair has been compromised to the point of being unsafe. 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 letter states.
“There have been several injuries and two confirmed fatalities. Out of respect to the families of our lost, we will not discuss their tragedy. We want everyone to know that their bravery was incredible in the face of this unimaginable horror.”
|Structures destroyed by wildfire are seen in Lytton, B.C., on Thursday, July 1, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
The village also expressed their gratitude for the donations and support pouring in from British Columbians – and vowed to rebuild.
“So many people have offered their kindness and support in varying ways and we thank all of you from the bottom of our hearts. You have shown the true greatness that humanity can offer,” the letter stated.
“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. 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.”
Access to the village site remains tightly controlled. Neither CN Rail nor CP Rail, both of who have right-of-ways in the area will be allowed into the village itself, the letter states, but that both will have access to some areas for “critical” tasks, including extinguishing railway ties which are still burning.
“CP Rail may conduct critical fire suppression response and critical repairs to their infrastructure only on their right-of-way, from rail-based vehicles, throughout their track through the fire area,” the letter states.
“CN Rail may conduct critical fire suppression response on their right-of-way, from rail-based vehicles, from Spences Bridge to Jade Springs only but no further.”
|A rail bridge spans the Fraser River as a wildfire burns in Lytton, B.C., on Friday, July 2, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Canadian Pacific said in a statement that mainline operations resumed Monday after safety inspections were completed of the tracks and infrastructure. Although fingers have been pointed at a CN train as a possible cause to the wildfire, the company said that after examining the evidence, it has concluded video evidence does not show a train in or near Lytton at the time of the fire in the village.
“In fact, the video shows a train 45 kilometers south of Lytton, and the smoke seen in the video comes from a different fire that was already burning,” said Mathieu Gaudreault, a CN spokesman.
Gaudreault said the train in the video was identified by CN operations staff as Train M3551 28, originating in Prince Rupert, bound for Vancouver.
“Train M3551 28 passed uneventfully through Lytton at 1327 PDT, hours before the wildfire that destroyed Lytton was first reported.”
The village government and RCMP are coordinating for recovery operations. Anyone who knows someone who was in or near Lytton on June 30 and has not been heard from since is asked to report that individual as missing to RCMP.
The regional district is also organizing a bus tour for village residents on Friday.
“While the area is still not safe for unescorted entry, work has been done to clear a way to permit taking residents through the area by bus,” the regional district stated in a news release. “This tour is being coordinated in conjunction with Lytton First Nation to ensure that impacted residents have an opportunity to view the area.”
To register for the bus tour, residents can call the regional district’s Emergency Operations Centre at 1-866-377-7188 or email email@example.com. Only up to two residents per household will be allowed on the tour.