Evacuees from a devastating wildfire in Lytton, B.C. are grappling with anxiety and uncertainty amid reports of catastrophic damage and unaccounted for residents.
The speed at which the fire moved into the community sent residents fleeing to a multitude of nearby communities — in some cases, separating friends and family members.
Starr Drynock told Global News her father Norman, a retired firefighter, stayed at the Lytton First Nation Thursday night in an effort to preserve what he could.
“He chose to stay and we found out he was the last one to stay on reserve and fight the fire and save as many houses as he can,” she said.
“It’s terrifying, because I know he wouldn’t leave.”
Some mobile phone infrastructure was also knocked out in the Lytton area, leaving evacuees unable to connect with one another.
“Being without any cell service — that’s everybody’s lifeline. Nobody can contact each other,” evacuee Ted Aljam said. “We’re going into Spence’s Bridge to get some cell service and finally just get some relief, let everybody know we’re OK.”
On Thursday afternoon, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said emergency reception centres had been set up in Merritt, Kelowna, Kamloops and Chilliwack, and urged evacuees to register.
He said some Lytton-area residents were still unaccounted for, and the RCMP was looking into their whereabouts.
Provincial officials are urging anyone who is unable to contact a loved one to call their local police and emergency social services centre.
The province is also working with the Red Cross to set up an emergency toll-free number to contact.
Officials confirmed much of the community had been destroyed.
Evacuee Terry Wagner, who was staying in Merritt, told Global News he was holding out hope his home about eight kilometres outside town was still standing.
“I heard it may be burnt right now, I don’t know. Everything’s sketchy,” he said. “I can’t believe anything until I actually see it myself.”
Other evacuees are already grappling with the certainty they’ve lost everything.
“We lost all our clothing and all of our personal stuff and some irreplaceable things that came from our parents, it’s a very sad day,” evacuee David Harrison said.
“We got a phone call from emergency alert and I didn’t believe them,” said Sharon Brown.
“I looked out the door and there was fire everywhere. And my house burned down right after my daughter picked me up.”
Farnworth said Thursday that “most homes and structures” in the village had been destroyed.
GoFundMe has created an online hub of verified fundraising campaigns for people who wish to donate to fire victims.
An estimated 1,000 people were evacuated from the village of Lytton and its surrounding areas.
As of Thursday afternoon, officials said the fire had grown to about 9,000 hectares in size.