B.C. government response to Lytton, B.C., wildfire criticized

Click to play video: 'Forensics teams arrive outside Lytton, B.C., after devastating wildfire'
Forensics teams arrive outside Lytton, B.C., after devastating wildfire
Forensics teams arrived outside Lytton, B.C., Saturday ahead of an investigation into the possible death toll of a devastating wildfire this week. Global BC's Paul Haysom reports from the scene. – Jul 3, 2021

The provincial government is facing criticism over its handling of the wildfire that destroyed much of the village of Lytton, B.C., with an Indigenous leader saying the needs of community members were ignored.

The accusations come as the BC Coroners Service says it will be entering the village Saturday as it works to confirm reports of two people killed during a wildfire that destroyed businesses and homes.

Read more: Forensic team arrives in Lytton, B.C.; investigation into deadly wildfire gears up

The service says the village was deemed unsafe to enter on Friday, but now expects to attend the scene.

Chief Matt Pasco, the chair of the Nlaka’pamux Nation Tribal Council, said his tribal council was forced to try to save lives with little to no help from the government.

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The Lytton First Nation is a member of the tribal council.

Click to play video: 'What’s next for Lytton residents?'
What’s next for Lytton residents?

Pasco said it took more than 12 hours to hear from the government as evacuations were underway.

Pasco, who operates a ranch near Ashcroft, B.C., north of Lytton, says the first contact he received from the government was regarding his cattle, not about affected community members.

“It was an abysmal attempt at the very thing they’re meant to do,” he said in an interview Saturday. “They had processes in places for our cattle but none for Nlaka’pamux people.”

Read more: How to prepare for a wildfire evacuation and what to do if one happens

Pasco said the government’s shortfalls can be traced to the province’s treatment of Indigenous peoples and lack of recognition of their jurisdiction when it comes to land management and stewardship.

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“Yes, we do have coordination problems because (the province) is not set to take care of Indigenous issues or Indigenous peoples,” he said.

Emergency Management BC did not immediately return a request to respond to the comments.

Pasco said the tribal council is working with the Lytton First Nation and other affected communities to figure out how many members remain unaccounted for.

Click to play video: 'Most of province remains under high to extreme danger'
Most of province remains under high to extreme danger

He said the most pressing questions concern what happens next for the community.

“It’s so devastating that I cannot find the English words to describe the devastation. It’s hard to fathom,” he said. “What does next week look like? What does the first long weekend of September look like when we have the children go back to school?”

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Read more: B.C. wildfire map 2021: Location and size of the fires burning around the province

New mapping from the BC Wildfire Service shows the wildfire has grown since Friday night.

Cliff Chapman, director of provincial operations for the BC Wildfire Service, said Friday that the recent wave of extreme heat has created conditions for a “significant spread” of wildfires, with the potential for 1,000 square kilometres to burn by the end of the weekend.

Elsewhere, an out-of-control wildfire burning about 40 kilometres southwest of Kamloops, B.C., forced officials to evacuate more than 100 homes Friday evening.

Orders issued by the Thompson-Nicola Regional District said the fire in the Durand Lake area has started threatening structures and the safety of residents.

Read more: Cause of Lytton, B.C., wildfire not yet known, resident saw train brake then smoke rise

Federal ministers have pledged to support B.C.’s fire fighting efforts, with Public Safety Minister Bill Blair saying the government has been preparing for the wildfire season for the past few weeks.

The cause of the wildfire that devastated Lytton is under investigation, although Premier John Horgan said he had heard anecdotal evidence linking the start of the fire to a train running through the community.

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The office of federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said in an emailed statement that it would take necessary action should any potential non-compliance with Canada’s rail safety laws and regulations be identified.

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