Several buildings have been destroyed in Lytton, B.C. after a fast-moving fire swept through the village Wednesday just moments after its residents were evacuated.
Sources tell Global News the local ambulance station, clinic and at least 10 houses were among the buildings burned to the ground shortly after Mayor Jon Polderman issued the evacuation order around 6 p.m.
An unknown number of injured residents were taken out of the village by SUV ambulance, while the rest of the residents were sent to evacuation centres in nearby Merritt and Lillooet, emergency crew sources said.
The evacuation order came after the village shattered the record for the highest temperature ever recorded in Canada for three consecutive days.
Lytton Coun. Robert Leitch said the fire started just south of the community and moved through the town “within minutes.”
“There was no warning. There was no evacuation alert, no orders given for the regional district or BC Wildfire,” he said.
“We’re really not sure what’s left.”
Eli Makeiv, who has lived in Lytton since 1968, said he only had 10 minutes to get out of town and that he “couldn’t see where I was going” through the smoke as he escaped.
“It went off just like a bomb,” he said.
Another evacuee said she had heard from family and friends that “the whole Main Street is pretty well toast.”
“So we don’t have a whole lot to go back to,” she said.
“I saw the really black smoke coming up just south of my house and then within 15 minutes we had to load up the truck, get everything and get the pets in, and we were gone — the fire was within 100 metres of the house,” Leitch said.
“That’s how fast it moved.”
The BC Wildfire Service said the flames that swept into the community were the result of a new fire, not the 350-hectare George Road fire already burning south of the village.
Crews with the BC Wildfire Service as well as municipal fire departments from Merritt, Kamloops and Boston Bar were deployed to assist the Lytton Fire Brigade.
RCMP officers went door to door to tell the estimated 250 residents of Lytton to get out.
“It’s been such a quick reaction at the moment, there hasn’t really been a direct area where there’s been an evacuation centre set up for people,” Michelle Nordstrom with the Thompson-Nicola Regional District Emergency Operations Centre said.
“There are some people heading to Spences Bridge and Boston Bar, I believe, sort of their own accord — the emergency social services is sort of still being worked out in terms of where people can go to actually register so that they can receive assistance due to being evacuated and potential damage to their properties.”
Nordstrom said it was too soon to say if everyone was accounted for or if any injuries had been reported.
Pictures and video posted to social media showed thick smoke clogging the community as residents raced to get out of town, and several buildings were reported to be on fire.
DriveBC said Highway 1 was closed in both directions between Old Boston Bar Road and Junction Highway 8. Drivers were told to detour via Highway 8 or Highway 5.
The Thompson-Nicola Regional District also issued an additional evacuation order for 87 properties north of Lytton due to the fire. Twenty-four other properties on the other side of the are now under evacuation alert, meaning they could be forced to leave if conditions change.
Properties in three other B.C. communities were under evacuation orders Wednesday as wildfires flared up amid a record-breaking heat wave.
Officials with the Thompson-Nicola Regional District issued evacuation orders for 136 properties in the Bonaparte Plateau and Copper Desert Country areas northwest of Kamloops due to the Sparks Lake fire, which has grown to an estimated 4,000 hectares (40 square kilometres).
Nearly 450 additional properties in the Deadman, Red Lake, Tranquille Valley, Vidette Lake, Loon Lake and Hihium Lake areas were under evacuation alerts.
The BC Wildfire Service said 56 firefighters and 10 helicopters were working the fire, which is suspected to be human caused and was generating smoke visible from Kamloops.
On Tuesday, the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District issued an evacuation order for multiple properties north of Lillooet and west of the Fraser River in the Pavillion Road area due to the 5,000 hectare (50 square kilometre) McKay Creek fire.
Twenty-four firefighters and four helicopters were on scene. The fire is also suspected to be human-caused.
And in the Peace River region, an evacuation order was issued for parts of Electoral Area B near Highway 97 due to a wildfire. An evacuation alert was also in effect for a number of nearby properties.
Highway 97 was closed in both directions between Suicide Hill Pullout and Prophet River Sub Road.
The fire, dubbed G80997 has grown to 4,800 hectares, and was caused by lightning.
Crews were also called to two new fires near Big White in the Okanagan, which were burning in close proximity and believed to be about 300 hectares in size, combined.
The flare-up in wildfire activity comes as the province continues to reel from an unprecedented heat wave.
While the extreme peaks of the heat wave appeared to have passed, hot, dry weather remains in the forecast, along with the possibility for thunderstorms in the interior, which could lead to lightning strikes, along with strong winds.
A province-wide campfire ban was implemented at noon on Wednesday.
Experts have warned that the province’s “extreme” fire danger rating is reminiscent of what B.C. saw in August 2017 and 2018, both historic years for wildfires.
Premier John Horgan on Wednesday evening warned that the fire situation is “extremely dangerous right now” and voiced support for the people of Lytton.
–With files from Jordan Armstrong