Meghan Fandrich clutches her five-year-old daughter tightly as she speaks about the behemoth wildfire that changed their lives forever.
She remembers the acrid air, the ashes falling on the courtyard by her coffee shop, and looking back at the mushroom cloud that hovered over Lytton for days.
“We just grabbed what we could, we locked up the doors and in a panic, I drove out of town away from the fire … Everything was burning.”
It’s been 100 days since the order was given to vacate the small village of about 300 people in southern B.C. as an unrelenting wildfire razed houses, the health centre, the post office, the grocery store, and more.
Two people died, more were injured, and residents remain scattered in hotels, with family, or in the handful of homes still standing in Lytton.
The people are “frustrated, isolated” and dealing with collective trauma, Fandrich says, yet government communication on temporary housing and financial support has been scarce.
It leaves a question mark hovering over the community, just like the smoke on June 30.
“These things don’t get done overnight,” says Jan Polderman, mayor of Lytton’s four-member council. “Engineers have to go in, cost estimates have to be put forward, plans have to be put in place.”
Limited staff are working as fast as they can to set up temporary housing, he adds, but the process has been “very slow.” It’s difficult without any infrastructure, he says: a place to store donations, supplies, salvaged items, or an address so that couriers can pick up and deliver.
Some delays have been due to toxicity test results that didn’t come in until Sept. 20, he explains, and the time needed to develop a safe work plan that accommodates them.
Nevertheless, Polderman remains hopeful that the rebuilding will represent “a new beginning.”
“We get a new economy in there to sort of pump a little life into town, that we work with our First Nations bands to make the best life for all of us possible,” he says.
“Maybe set a bit of an example for the rest of Canada.”
Amber Wilber of the Skuppah First Nation says some of Lytton’s residents may not be able to wait much longer.
She volunteers at the Skuppah band office, where for months, those in need have been picking up food, hygiene products and other basic items.
And in recent months, she says, donations have begun to wane.
“We don’t ask for money or proof of anything,” she says. “There’s no stores at all, this is all a lot of people have right now.
“We plan on staying open in the long run, but it’s about food security now, and we need those necessities brought in.”
Jackie Tegart, MLA for Fraser—Nicola, says she’s been “disappointed” by the provincial government’s response to the crisis as local leaders exhaust themselves trying to put the pieces back together.
Some of them are also dealing with the loss of their own homes, Tegart adds.
“We don’t have the expertise to look at options for housing. We don’t have the expertise to do the environmental assessments — to look at the infrastructure that was destroyed during the fire,” she says.
“The provincial government has an obligation to assist, they promised they would, and I’m telling you that promise has not been fulfilled.”
The province’s public safety minister, Mike Farnworth, promises the government has not and will not back down on its commitments.
“There is a short-term, medium and long-term requirement in terms of building back Lytton that is going to take place,” he tells MLAs in the legislature.
For several weeks, residents of Lytton have been permitted to return to sift through the rubble of their homes and businesses for any salvageable belongings.
From her business, the Klowa Art Café, Fandrich says she was able to dig out a plant and a few small items, but that’s all.
“I try not to drive through Lytton because the remains of my coffee shop down there — they’re too hard to see.”
She says she doesn’t have post-traumatic stress disorder per se, but tells Global News she’s easily triggered.
“The smell of smoke, the sound of a helicopter, anything — a weird-looking cloud especially. So dealing with that and still trying to be a good parent has been really difficult.”
Her daughter still goes to school, and Fandrich was able to save many of her favourite stuffed animals from their house, which thankfully, still stands.
But they hug each other a little more tightly now, and keep their fingers crossed for a brand new playground when Lytton is finally rebuilt.
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