On June 30, 2021, a fire ravaged the village of Lytton, B.C., and more than two years later, little has been rebuilt.
“The slowness of everything has been so difficult for people,” said Lytton Mayor Denise O’Connor. “We commonly have heard the frustration that people have and anger they have.”
Some of those lived experiences of trying to navigate the unknown path ahead have been captured by a University of Victoria Ph.D. candidate and researcher, Ashley Berard.
“When you’re evacuated from a wildfire disaster or when you maybe lose property and you find that out, you’re in a state of trauma and nobody is handing you a guidebook and telling you, ‘OK, here’s what you do,’” she told Global News.
Berard has been studying the social impacts of wildfire disasters in B.C.’s Interior, interviewing former Lytton and Monte Lake evacuees about the challenges they faced.
“I’m seeing participants with really high rates of depression and anxiety or PTSD. And at the same time, again, they’re trying to navigate these insurance claims while dealing with this trauma,” Berard said.
“There doesn’t seem to be a huge amount of mental health support available right now for wildfire survivors.”
Berard’s research comes as B.C. is facing an unprecedented wildfire season with more hectares scorched already than in any year on record.
“We’ve burned through 1.5 million hectares of forest,” said Bowinn Ma, B.C.’s Emergency Management and Climate Readiness Minister, on Friday.
“In terms of communities impacted, we are just starting to see more people impacted as fires move from north to south.”
In total, Berard interviewed 30 wildfire survivors with hopes more will come to participate in her research.
“My biggest concern or worry would be that we’re not learning about that human impact and then implementing changes based on what we’re finding that our participants or community members are struggling with,” she said.
Berard hopes her research will help inform government and policymakers as B.C. continues to see more devastating wildfires and more lives being affected across the province.