Residents of the community of Lytton, B.C., had their first chance on Friday to get a a first-hand look at the village since it was devastated by a deadly fire.
Police have kept a tight cordon around the evacuated community due to toxic materials and other hazards generated by the June 30 fire.
Residents who wanted to see what remained of the town were allowed to enter on a charter bus, arranged by the Thompson-Nicola Regional District. Not everyone wanted to go.
“I have mixed feelings, it’s sad to lose the whole community, we just got our house paid off,” Evacuee Fred Charlie said before boarding the bus.
“I’ve just got to look and talk to my kids about it. I told them to look forward because that’s all we can do.”
The devastation within the community is extensive.
The majority of buildings within the village proper have been destroyed, and melted cars remain parked in front of the places where homes once stood.
Erik Siwik, who suffered burns in his harrowing escape from the community, told Global News the bus trip evoked complex feelings.
“The emotion for some people. The compassion. Just the devastation is awesome, in a way. How could this happen so fast?” he said.
“It’s not there. It’s just in pieces. Some are just chimney stacks, framework. The clinic is not there. It’s just unbelievable. It looks like it just exploded out. You have to see it to believe it, physically be there.”
Evacuees remain scattered throughout multiple communities, from Lillooet to Merritt to the Fraser Valley.
Friday’s bus tour was for many the first opportunity to reconnect since they were forced to flee the village with minutes to spare.
“The beautiful part of it is the amount of people that came, the hugs, people that I know, I deal with every day,” Siwik said.
“The real story is the compassion and sensitivity of the people who came together.”
The fire remains under investigation, and police have refused to speculate about cause.
Many residents believe it was sparked by a passing train, and on Friday the Transportation Safety Board said it was deploying a team to Lytton probe “a fire potentially involving a freight train.”
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