A village in British Columbia’s Interior largely lies in ashes, the province’s public safety minister said Thursday as he confirmed that flames have destroyed most buildings in Lytton and left multiple residents unaccounted for.
Mike Farnworth did not provide detailed damage estimates or say how many residents remain missing after fires triggered an emergency evacuation of the town 250 kilometres northeast of Vancouver.
But he said the roughly 1,000 people who managed to flee to safety will find very little left when they can eventually return home.
“Most homes and structures in the village, as well as the ambulance station and the RCMP detachment, have been lost,” Farnworth said at an afternoon news conference. “I also understand that some residents have not been accounted for and their location is currently being investigated by the RCMP.”
A massive heatwave that sent local temperatures to historic highs earlier this week is being partially blamed for a spate of wildfires in the area. One blaze near Lytton, now spanning 90 square kilometres, is still active and creating considerable danger for all in the area, Premier John Horgan said.
The premier, who said two blazes appear to have played a role in Lytton’s destruction, said causes have not yet been determined.
An evacuation order was issued at 6 p.m. local time Wednesday, a day after the village shattered a Canadian record with the highest-ever temperature of 49.6 C on Tuesday.
The village’s mayor was among those who had to quickly flee.
“The fire was a wall about three of four feet high coming up to the fence line. I drove through town and it was just smoke flames wires were down. there were a couple of fire crews that were going door to door and yeah we were just getting people out as fast as possible,” said Jan Polderman, Lytton’s mayor.
The community is grappling with a tremendous amount of “devastation and loss,” said John Haugen, a deputy chief with Lytton First Nation.
“It’s incomprehensible, people are so anxious and worried about what comes next for them,” he said.
The nation, which has evacuated people to a recreational centre in Lillooet, is still trying to account for all of its members, he said.
He said he knows of some people who have suffered smoke inhalation and burns from the fire.
Rosanna Stamberg is among those concerned her children are unaccounted for.
“I don’t know which direction they went. I don’t know if they went down towards Chilliwack. I don’t know if they went to Lillooet. I don’t know if they went to Spencer’s Bridge or Merritt or Kamloops. I have no idea,” she said in an interview from her home in Enderby. “Or if they stayed home.”
Efforts to reach her children by phone have been unsuccessful due to a lack of cell service, she said.
“I’m very worried,” she added.
Horgan said both the provincial and federal governments stand ready to offer affected residents whatever assistance they can, noting the pledge of support from Ottawa came during a conversation with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier in the day.
The province is asking all evacuees to register online so officials can account for their safety.