LYTTON (NEWS 1130) — Lytton’s mayor says “it would be a miracle if everyone made it out alive” after a wildfire tore through the village, forcing an evacuation Wednesday.
The small Fraser Canyon community shattered the record for the hottest temperature ever recorded in Canada for three straight days, with the thermometer hitting a blistering 49.6 C Tuesday.
Mayor Jan Polderman issued the evacuation order Wednesday afternoon, saying the fire swept through the community incredibly quickly.
“There were all sorts of houses on fire. People were frantic to get out,” he tells NEWS 1130.
“The fire, it took maybe 15 minutes to engulf the whole town. People, basically they just grabbed their keys, and ran out the door. That’s how quick the fire happened.”
He says he drove back through town and the devastation was shocking.
“The town is about a kilometre long and there were flames from one end of town to the other. I saw it with my own eyes. There may be a few structures that are saved but when I was going through town there were so many structures that were on fire, the power lines had dropped across the road. There was smoke billowing from both sides of the street. That’s what I saw,” he says, adding the conditions made it impossible to contain.
“It’s been 40 plus degrees for the last four days, and the wind was blowing 60 km/h an hour. It didn’t matter if you had helicopters or firefighting equipment, once it started, it just took off.”
An evacuation order for 111 properties was issued by the Thompson-Nicola Regional District Emergency Operations Centre. An evacuation centre has been set up in nearby Merritt. Polderman says people also fled to Cache Creek, Lillooet, and Boston Bar.
Evacuees from #Lytton – Emergency Social Services building at 1721 Coldwater Avenue, Merritt is open as reception centre. Any Lytton evacuees in Merritt must register at this centre. Lodging and incidental support available for 72 hours on request. #GeorgeRoadFire
— City of Merritt (@CityofMerritt) July 1, 2021
The BC Wildfire Service could not provide any details on the size or cause of the fire, saying the situation is “evolving” and “we are diverting resources where possible to respond to the incident.”
“The helicopters are doing their best, but they’re no match for a fire at least in these conditions,” Polderman says.
The #BCWildfire Service is responding to K71086 in #Lytton. At this time this is an evolving situation and we are working with the Lytton Fire Brigade.
This is an agency assist as the Lytton Fire Brigade is the lead agency on this fire.
— BC Wildfire Service (@BCGovFireInfo) July 1, 2021
‘There was ash and big embers falling’
Tiffany Callewaert-Haugen is a former councillor with the Village. She had just come home from picking up her four-year-old son when she smelled smoke. At first she thought it was from a fire that has been smouldering outside of town for the past week.
“Why does it smell like the fire’s right outside?” she says she asked herself. “Then I opened the front door and the fire was right on the edge of town.”
“There was ash and big embers falling, and I just got my son and our dogs and we just got out of there. The whole street was black, and there was huge chunks of stuff flying and houses burning.”
She headed toward the centre of town, wanting to check on her father-in-law.
“We couldn’t cross the bridge. You couldn’t see it was just black,” she tells NEWS 1130.
A horrific time for those who call #Lytton home. Homes completely destroyed, businesses up in flames in just a few minutes. The hospital is apparently destroyed, along with the fire station and Main Street. People left with just the clothes on their back. Heartbreaking @NEWS1130 pic.twitter.com/RXVGEQI3rD
— Tarnjit Kaur Parmar (@Tarnjitkparmar) July 1, 2021
Callewaert-Haugen also works with the Emergency Operations Centre, and says she was scrambling to try to help others as she fled with her child.
“I’m really just in shock, because I got the hell out of there but at the same time I’m so worried about everybody. So I just tried my best to yell at everybody to just get out,” she explains.
Not good. This is the last image from the Lytton weather station webcam before it went off line around 540 pm local. Last weather report from Lytton was at 541 pm with a temperature of 37C and winds gusting to 67 kmh #BCFires pic.twitter.com/imM0VH5aeD
— Rob's Obs (@robsobs) July 1, 2021
Once Callewaert-Haugen and her son got to Lillooet, and then had to call her husband.
“My husband, he’s up in a helicopter fighting another wildfire. He’s calling me from a satellite phone and I’m having to tell him that our house burned down,” she says.
“I think he’s probably just shocked as I am. He was glad that I made sure his mom and dad and nana I got out of town too. That was his main concern, and that our son and the dogs were with me. I know how he feels — he’s helpless at the moment. He grew up in Lytton, his hometown is gone.”
Some terrifying video out of Lytton, where fire has quickly spread through the Village. You can see the fire so close to people who are racing to get out, some homes have already been destroyed. This community has been hit hard by the heat in this heatwave – now fire. @NEWS1130 pic.twitter.com/svnV7oDkLj
— Tarnjit Kaur Parmar (@Tarnjitkparmar) July 1, 2021
MLA Jackie Tegart posted to Twitter saying she is “hearing reports of catastrophic damage,” and awaiting a briefing from the wildfire service.
Hearing reports of catastrophic damage to the town of #Lytton. Praying everyone has made it out safely. I am waiting for a briefing from BC Wildfire Service and will share new information as it’s made available. Please follow @BCGovFireInfo for the latest info and stay safe.
— Jackie Tegart (@tegart_jackie) July 1, 2021
Highway 1 has been closed between Boston Bar and Spences Bridge so crews can fight the fire. E-Comm says cell and landline service was impacted, and BC Hydro is reporting an outage impacting the village and surrounding communities. Cell phone and landline service went down, and BC power in the village
There is no estimated time for reopening.