The British Columbia government pledged to rebuild the community of Lytton Thursday, as it confirmed the majority of the village had been destroyed by a devastating wildfire.
“I have reports that most homes and structures in the village as well as the ambulance station and the RCMP detachment have been lost,” Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said at a briefing on the province’s escalating wildfire situation.
“I also understand that some residents have not been accounted for, and their location is currently being investigated by the RCMP.”
At least 1,000 people had been evacuated from Lytton and the surrounding areas, Farnworth said.
B.C. Premier John Horgan said the cause of the fire, which was last mapped at 9,000 hectares, remained under investigation.
“When the smoke in Lytton clears, of course, the province will be there to rebuild,” Horgan said.
“I made that commitment to the mayor today and I make that commitment to those who are in emergency centres around the region.”
Fires surge, state of emergency possible
Horgan and Farnworth said they had spoken to the federal government about additional support — up to and including the deployment of the military, amid a rapid surge in new wildfires in B.C.
Farnworth said he was not ruling out implementing a new provincial state of emergency, just days after declaring the province’s longest-ever state of emergency, due to COVID-19, was ending.
Horgan said there had been at least 62 new fires in the preceding 24 hours, along with 29,000 lightning strikes.
“I cannot stress enough how extreme the fire risk is at this time,” Horgan said, but added the province was not discouraging travel to the arid Southern Interior.
“I think we can continue to travel, but we need to do what (provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry) has always advised us to do: check before you go, make sure you’re well prepared when you get there and be mindful of your circumstances.”
Farnworth said that evacuees from Lytton had been widely dispersed, and said emergency reception centres had been set up in Kamloops, Chilliwack, Kelowna and Merritt, with more on the way.
He urged any evacuee in need of support for shelter, food, medicine or prescriptions to attend one of the centres for help.
Evacuees were also urged to register with the province’s online registration tool.
GoFundMe has created an online hub of verified fundraising campaigns for people who wish to donate to fire victims.
Several other out-of-control wildfires in the Southern Interior also saw explosive growth since Wednesday.
The MacKay Creek fire, north of Lillooet, grew to an estimated 15,000 hectares (150 square kilometres), while the Sparks Lake fire north of Kalmoops Lake grew to 20,000 hectares (200 square kilometres). Residents have been evacuated from communities near both fires.
In the Cariboo region, an evacuation order was issued Thursday due to a 70-hectare, lightning-caused fire southwest of Decka Lake.
Several other large fires are burning in central and northeastern B.C., and the province saw significant storm and lighting activity on Wednesday evening.
The majority of British Columbia was under an “extreme” or “high” fire danger rating Thursday, as the province continues to feel the effects of an unprecedented and lengthy early-season heat wave.
That extreme heat event saw temperature records tumble across the province, and the shattering of the national all-time maximum temperature record on three consecutive days in Lytton.