New study to help Lytton-area Indigenous community rebuild with climate resilience after fire

Click to play video: 'First Nation in B.C. aims to rebuild with resilience with help from researchers'
First Nation in B.C. aims to rebuild with resilience with help from researchers
WATCH: First Nation in B.C. aims to rebuild with resilience with help from researchers – Jan 13, 2022

Editor’s note:  A previous version of this story stated that all homes in Kanaka Bar burned on June 30, 2021.  Homes in Kanaka Bar were not impacted by the fire on June 30, 2021, several families from Kanaka Bar including Chief Patrick Michell’s family were living in Lytton at the time of the fire.  The test homes being built in the study will be built in Kanaka Bar and made available to families displaced by the fire in Lytton, B.C.

For 25 years, Chief Patrick Michell’s home in Lytton, B.C., was a gathering place for his large extended family. It’s where his wife passed down teachings to their children and grandchildren and where so many family members came together for celebrations and birthdays. The home, like so many others in the area, was always filled with love.

Until one day, under a scorching summer sun last June, it was gone.

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“We had just experienced an incredible extreme weather event and we shall call it heat, we shall call it wind, and we shall call it drought,” the Kanaka Bar Indian Band chief recalled, thinking back to the events of  June 30, 2021.

“My wife texted me, she said she just received a call, ‘Lytton’s on fire,’ and another minute later, ‘Our reserve is on fire,’ and I ran out the door.”

Click to play video: 'B.C. appointing recovery liaisons to help Lytton rebuild'
B.C. appointing recovery liaisons to help Lytton rebuild

Michell remembers finding his wife, pregnant daughter and three grandchildren standing on the road, in shock. His home had been destroyed by the wildfire.

“The fire jumped from home to home to home willy-nilly. One of my friends described it as a dragon. He stood on Main Street, the fire started — a house on fire, and a minute later another house 10 or 15 feet away burst into flames, then it jumped up and around, so the fire was dancing.”

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The fire that wiped out the village of Lytton came during a record heatwave when the temperature reached 49.6 C in Lytton, shattering a Canadian heat record.

Six months later, Kanaka Bar is preparing to build homes for families that have been displaced by last summer’s fire but this time Michell says he wants to be sure that homes can withstand not only future fires but all kinds of extreme weather events as well.

“I’m an Indigenous person, when I build something, it is to be a legacy asset for my future generation.”

It’s why the Kanaka Bar Indian Band is now partnering with researchers at Calgary’s Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT). Over the next several months the team at SAIT will work with partners from Okanagan College, Foresight Canada and Seko Construction to design homes and infrastructure better able to withstand extreme heat, cold, fires and floods.

“We’re building between four and eight homes,” said Melanie Ross, research and business administration manager at SAIT’s Green building Technologies Access Centre. “This first batch will be very much a research project where we’ll be building sound homes, people will be moving into them but we’ll be following everyone.

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“We know there will be more climate events in the region. How will those homes stand up to those climate events? How safe do people feel? Have the homes been able to resist fire, water, flooding and freezing risk right now?”

The study is being fully funded initially by the Kanaka Bar Indian Band but the chief is hopeful other partners, including the provincial and federal governments, will come on board and contribute funds in the future. For now, he says, his community cannot afford to wait.

Click to play video: '100 days after devastating wildfire, hundreds of evacuated Lytton residents have yet to return'
100 days after devastating wildfire, hundreds of evacuated Lytton residents have yet to return

The research team hopes to complete its design phase by the end of March so construction can begin this spring and the homes can be ready for occupancy by the fall.

“Yes, we have a compressed timeline,” Ross said. “We brought in more researchers, more people who are willing to roll up their sleeves and have the time to dedicate to recognizing that people in the region have been out of homes since June of 2021 and we are now in 2022. We want to have them in homes as fast as possible.”

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Everything learned from the research in Kanaka Bar will be made available to the general public. Michell says it’s important to his community that any lessons learned here are shared.

“We’re all going through a rough ride, we’re facing a global existential crisis, where’s the success story?  Hi! We’re at, right-click and steal anything. Information is power and we give it away for free.”

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