‘Abysmal attempt’: B.C. wildfire response criticized by Indigenous leader

'Abysmal attempt': B.C. wildfire response criticized by Indigenous leader
The Canadian Press

LYTTON, B.C. — The provincial government is facing criticism over its handling of the wildfire that destroyed much of the village of Lytton, B.C., with an Indigenous leader saying the needs of community members were ignored.

The accusations come as the B.C. Coroners Service says it will be entering the village Saturday as it works to confirm reports of two people killed during a wildfire that destroyed businesses and homes.

The service says the village was deemed unsafe to enter on Friday, but now expects to attend the scene.

Chief Matt Pasco, the chair of the Nlaka’pamux Nation Tribal Council, said his tribal council was forced to try to save lives with little to no help from the government.

The Lytton First Nation is a member of the tribal council.

Pasco said it took more than 12 hours to hear from the government as evacuations were underway.

Pasco, who operates a ranch near Ashcroft, B.C., north of Lytton, says the first contact he received from the government was regarding his cattle, not about affected community members.

“It was an abysmal attempt at the very thing they’re meant to do,” he said in an interview Saturday. “They had processes in places for our cattle but none for Nlaka’pamux people.”

Pasco said the government’s shortfalls can be traced to the province’s treatment of Indigenous peoples and lack of recognition of their jurisdiction when it comes to land management and stewardship.

“Yes, we do have coordination problems because (the province) is not set to take care of Indigenous issues or Indigenous peoples,” he said.

Emergency Management B.C. did not immediately return a request to respond to the comments.

Pasco said the tribal council is working with the Lytton First Nation and other affected communities to figure out how many members remain unaccounted for.

He said the most pressing questions concern what happens next for the community.

“It’s so devastating that I cannot find the English words to describe the devastation. It’s hard to fathom,” he said. “What does next week look like? What does the first long weekend of September look like when we have the children go back to school?”

New mapping from the BC Wildfire Service shows the wildfire has grown since Friday night.

Cliff Chapman, director of provincial operations for the BC Wildfire Service, said Friday that the recent wave of extreme heat has created conditions for a “significant spread” of wildfires, with the potential for 1,000 square kilometres to burn by the end of the weekend.

Elsewhere, an out-of-control wildfire burning about 40 kilometres southwest of Kamloops, B.C., forced officials to evacuate more than 100 homes Friday evening.

Orders issued by the Thompson-Nicola Regional District said the fire in the Durand Lake area has started threatening structures and the safety of residents.

Federal ministers have pledged to support B.C.’s fire fighting efforts, with Public Safety Minister Bill Blair saying the government has been preparing for the wildfire season for the past few weeks.

The cause of the wildfire that devastated Lytton is under investigation, although Premier John Horgan said he had heard anecdotal evidence linking the start of the fire to a train running through the community.

The office of federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said in an emailed statement that it would take necessary action should any potential non-compliance with Canada’s rail safety laws and regulations be identified.

– By Nick Wells in Vancouver.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 3, 2021.

The Canadian Press

READ MORE: Wildfire evacuation: People still remain unaccounted for in Lytton B.C.

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