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Lytton evacuees get first look at devastation in fire-ravaged village

Last Updated Jul 9, 2021 at 11:02 pm PDT

The village of Lytton was destroyed in a wildfire that tore through the community on June 30, 2021 (Martin MacMahon, NEWS 1130 Photo)

Some of the nearly 1,000 evacuated residents boarded a bus, getting their first look at what little is left of Lytton

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada has sent investigators to Lytton to determine if a train caused the wildfire

LYTTON (NEWS 1130) — The railway trestle charred. Trees turned completely black. Garden ornaments and the metal lawn furniture frames on a singed patch of earth that once was someone’s yard. Homes and other buildings reduced to piles of rubble and tangles of wire.

That is what remains of Lytton, a place hundreds called home before they had to flee a wildfire that tore through the village and nearby First Nations on June 30.

RELATED: Little left of wildfire-ravaged Lytton as letter details ‘heartbreaking’ aftermath

Some of the nearly 1,000 evacuated residents boarded a bus Friday, getting their first look at what little is left of their homes, businesses, and community gathering places.

Residents were picked up in Whistler, Chilliwack, Merritt, and Kamloops, the different communities to which the evacuees fled. Mental health support was provided, an acknowledgment that the experience would likely be traumatic for people who have in many cases lost everything.

NEWS 1130’s Martin MacMahon was in Lytton Friday, and describes what the evacuees would have seen on the tour.

“Homes, simply shadows in many cases, not much left but a pile of dust and the outline of the foundation. Home appliances provide a haunting image, a washer, and dryer, all that remains of one. In many cases, not much is left but a burned-out car in the driveway. One car with a particularly disturbing image, its tires non-existent windows, shattered with what looks like the shell of the baby seat in the back,” he says.

“Not much is left here, a handful of homes, the post office, and Anglican Church. Amid downed power lines, the village’s rainbow crosswalk appears undamaged,” he adds, noting some buildings have been so badly burned it’s impossible to tell what they once were.

Evacuees braced themselves for shock

Micha Kingston, who has been a Lytton resident for 35 years, lost her apartment in the fire. She told NEWS 1130 before the tour that seeing the damage firsthand will help her move forward, as she’s only just begun to process the full extent of her loss.

“I’ve kind of mentally been envisioning what it’s gonna look like when we cross the bridge and look into town, and looking for the landmarks that will no longer be there. Definitely, I’m sure it’s gonna be really shocking,” she said ahead of the tour.

RELATED: Lytton wildfire evacuees learning village, most homes have burned down

She has seen a few pictures of what remains in the wildfire-ravaged area in recent days, but they only gave a small glimpse into the destruction. She believes seeing it in person will be so much harder.

“This is just going to be kind of confirmation of what I’ve known for the past week, but there’s definitely going to be something different about seeing it with my own eyes and being physically in the space. It’s gonna hit home on a different level.”

Kingston also said one thing bringing her comfort was knowing she would be with others from the community, all going through a similar emotional experience.

“Now that more time is going by I’m starting to think about the meaning of losing your home. Generally, when there is a fire, it’s just one person’s home, and just one person dealing with the tragedy of losing all their things. Just the scale of it is crazy. The entire town, it’s a different level of destruction.”

TSB investigating whether train sparked Lytton wildfire

At this time, the fire is believed to be human-caused, but exactly how has yet to be determined. A human-caused fire is any fire that was not caused by lightning. Speculation has swirled that a train sparked a brushfire. Conditions at the time were extremely dry and quite windy. In the days leading up to the fire, Lytton broke the record for the highest-ever recorded temperature in Canada. The BC Wildfire Service and the RCMP have been investigating for over a week.

RELATED: Deadly Lytton wildfire suspected to be human-caused

On Friday, the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) of Canada announced it “is deploying a team of investigators following a fire potentially involving a freight train in Lytton.”

Chair Kathy Fox explains the delay, saying the board didn’t receive an “occurrence report” until Thursday.

“We have to have a report of an occurrence and normally those reports come from the operator or from the crew or from other witnesses. In this case, we did not receive an occurrence report from the railways, and we proactively reached out to them to ask if there had been an occurrence and we were told, ‘No,” she says.

“Until we had information, we didn’t have any jurisdiction to go in there. Now we’ve got more information which has come to us as a result of the on-site activities of other agencies. That’s given us enough to at least go out and take a look and see if there is a connection or if it’s just coincidental.”

It is mandatory to report a fire sparked by a train to the TSB, according to Fox.

“A fire created or caused by rolling railway stock is a reportable occurrence under our regulations, but it may not always be apparent to the crew or to the company it could be a spark that flies off a train or something else that that causes a brush fire, and they may not even be aware if it happened,” she says.

“It may not always be apparent to the crew or to the company. It could be a spark that flies off a train or something else that that causes a brush fire.”

The TSB receives between 30 and 100 reports of train-caused fires each year. The number depends on a number of variables, including weather conditions.

A team of Lytton firefighters remain in the community, and are being assisted by the provincial wildfire service and crews from other provinces.

The fire is no longer classified as out of control, but is 8,807 hectares in size, according to the BC Wildfire Service.

There are 149 firefighters, six helicopters, and 10 pieces of heavy equipment engaged in battling the fire. On Thursday, 40 firefighters and two task force leaders arrived from New Brunswick to help bolster the local effort.

With files from Monika Gul and Tamara Slobogean