By Jennifer Gauthier
LYTTON, British Columbia (Reuters) – Residents of Lytton, British Columbia, were able to see the remains of their homes on Friday for the first time since they were forced to flee for their lives days ago.
The central British Columbia town made headlines at the end of June for breaking Canada’s heat record – hitting 49.6°C (121.28°F) at its hottest – and was then almost completely destroyed in a forest fire caused in part by the heat wave.
The town of around 250 people had just minutes to evacuate on June 30, along with roughly 2,000 people living in nearby indigenous communities, after a forest fire was started by what authorities suspect was human activity.
Ninety percent of the town was destroyed, Lytton Mayor Jan Polderman said.
“A few buildings survived in town but nearly every home in the centre of the village is gone. Where many buildings stood is now simply charred earth,” Polderman wrote in an open letter published in the Merritt Herald, the local newspaper. “We want everyone to know that their bravery was incredible in the face of this unimaginable horror.”
Residents had not been able to return to the town until Friday due to ongoing fires and toxic substances in the area. Roughly 250 people – including residents and media – were taken on bus tours of the town on Friday afternoon, according to Thompson-Nicola Regional District, which organized the tours.
“Didn’t get much sleep last night thinking about the bus tour into Lytton today,” resident Edith Loring-Kuhanga posted on Twitter. “I know it’s going to be heartbreaking but I need to go see our little town even though it’s decimated!”
The scenes were a shock to residents, one told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
“We’ve seen the videos, but until you actually see it, it’s hard to believe,” Chloe Ross said. “I understand why others don’t want to go. Nothing about this feels real.”
Two people died in the fire. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who have been coordinating family reunification efforts, said on Friday no one has been reported missing so far.
(Reporting by Moira Warburton in Vancouver and Jennifer Gauthier in Lytton; Editing by Sandra Maler)