MERRITT (NEWS 1130) – A number of people remain unaccounted for, after a wildfire forced the entire village of Lytton to evacuate Wednesday.
Residents were forced to drop everything and leave at a moment’s notice as the flames quickly approached, ultimately destroying 90 per cent of the village, burning down the majority of homes and buildings in the community.
With many people still missing, residents who haven’t heard from their loved ones are fearing the worst.
John Haugen, acting chief of Lytton First Nation told me this morning there were members of his community still unaccounted for. “People need shelter, places to rest, lay their head down + be able to connect w/ family members that they’re looking for.” @NEWS1130 @CityNewsVAN pic.twitter.com/Bg4LdsMXcT
— Monika Gul (@MonikaGul) July 2, 2021
John Haugen, acting chief of the Lytton First Nation, says there are people in his community looking for loved ones.
“There’s about eight unaccounted for. I just mentioned to my fellow member that they’re still looking for a father and a son that haven’t been named in this system as being located,” he explained.
“We do need to know that people are keeping track of their friends and associates because that’s what’s needed. We have to know where these people are and if they’re safe,” he added.
The Canadian Red Cross says if you need help finding loved ones who were in the Lytton area, you should call the organization’s Family Reunification line at 1-800-863-6582. That line is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Pacific.
Some have taken to social media in a desperate attempt to connect. In one post, someone is looking for their uncle and aunt, writing “if anyone has any info or have seen them today or heard from them, please let me know.”
The Lytton Creek wildfire has destroyed some key infrastructure, including power and telephone lines, making it more difficult for some to reach their relatives and friends.
Related video: Majority of Lytton, B.C. burned by a fast-moving wildfire
“Neighbouring Telus and BC Hydro stations have suffered extensive damage. In addition, rail and highway infrastructure are affected,” Mission—Matsqui—Fraser Canyon MP Brad Vis said in a Facebook post, confirming most of the village had been decimated by flames.
Michelle Nordstrom with the Thompson Nicola Regional District says people have been calling emergency operation centres, looking for friends and family, adding the exact number of people missing will become more clear in the days ahead.
“There was no cellular service for people that were in Lytton, so it’s been very hard for them to get into contact directly,” she explained.
Outpouring of support
Many of the people forced out by the fire in Lytton have taken shelter in neighbouring communities, such as Merritt.
The tragedy has mobilized British Columbians across the province, many doing whatever they can to help evacuees, most of whom have lost just about everything.
People and businesses have been offering up food and supplies, and some have even opened their homes to those in need.
“We are one community. We’re one nation. We’re going to be getting through this together. It may be more difficult for some, but our hearts are with you as you’re going through this,” said Derlanda Hewton, general manager of the Nicola Valley Food Bank.
The generosity has been overwhelming.
Harry Lali, a former B.C. MLA, was among those lending a helping hand. He brought reinforcements to those helping at the emergency evacuation centre in Merritt.
“The community of Merritt — and I’ve lived here a long time — it’s actually a well-knit community, everybody’s pretty close to each other. And in an hour of need, everybody comes together to help each other, especially in times like this. It’s such a tragedy, with the neighbouring community of Lytton burning down,” he said.
“This is a long-term kind of a thing that’s going to take place, so people are willing to help out in any way that they possibly can. Individuals are doing it, businesses are doing it as well.”
Some people have even dropped by the emergency centre in Merritt simply to ask how they can help.
Fraser Valley tourism groups have come together to collect donations.
“I’m hopeful that across all of the communities, we’re going to see a huge outpouring of support,” said Clare Seeley, manager of tourism for Mission.
GoFundMe campaigns have also been set up, many of them raising thousands of dollars in just hours, and some surpassing their goals in less than a day.
The Canadian Red Cross says it is not currently looking for donations for those affected by B.C. wildfires.
‘It just happened so quick’
The fire prompted the quick evacuation of the entire community Wednesday afternoon. Video shows the fire catching some people off guard, forcing them to drop everything and leave as quickly as possible.
Photos of the village show just how extensive the damage is.
“We didn’t have time to grab nothing, just what we’re wearing right now. We lost our home, and my mother lost her home too,” Tomy Sam, who fled to Merritt, told NEWS 1130 Thursday.
“It just happened so quick. We didn’t even have time to think. We tried to save the house but there was no time. We just jumped into the vehicles and we started getting everybody in,” Sam recalled, adding he and his loved ones raced to his 92-year-old mother’s house to get her out.
His story is similar to many others, with some people saying they only had the clothes on their backs.
The wildfire in Lytton followed extreme temperatures. The village recorded the highest temperatures ever in Canada on three consecutive days, the highest being 49.6 degrees on Tuesday.
“This has been a very difficult day, and the days ahead are going to continue to challenge us,” Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said at a briefing Thursday. “This fire moved aggressively and continues to do so, burning through the extreme conditions that have resulted from the record heat in the area.”
The Thompson-Nicola Regional District has issued an Evacuation Order and Alert for this area. For information, visit: https://t.co/xWZA9IQllZ
— BC Wildfire Service (@BCGovFireInfo) July 2, 2021
As of Thursday afternoon, the Lytton Creek fire was an estimated 6,400 hectares in size. It continues to be classified as ‘Out of Control’ and weather conditions remain a concern.
The BC Wildfire Service says it’s working closely with the Lytton Fire Brigade, which is the lead agency on this fire.