CANADA 'I want to go home again': One year after...

‘I want to go home again’: One year after fire, Lytton, BC residents mourn slow recovery

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The village of Lytton, British Columbia was reduced to rubble when a wildfire engulfed it on June 30, 2021. A year later, little has changed. (Simon Gohe/Radio Canada)

It’s been a year since the people of Lytton, British Columbia, and those in neighboring communities lost everything when a wildfire spread through the village, burned homes and businesses and killed two people.

In the days leading up to the fire, the community of about 250 people set heat records across the country, reaching 49.6°C. The grass was dry and the air hot.

In a matter of hours, the city burned to the ground, leaving only a few buildings, mostly of charred metal and bricks.

A year later, little has changed.

A burnt-out car and a pile of charred wreckage.

An environmental assessment, archaeological work, debris removal and demolition must be completed before Lytton residents can begin rebuilding their community. (Shelly Joyce/CBC)

According to him, over the past year, Fabian Duncan moved from place to place in different communities. Now he has returned to Lytton First Nations land. The Nation has 56 reserves along the Fraser River located in and around the village of Lytton.

Duncan, who saw the fire ignite, says he is still struggling with the emotional impact of the fire on him and his loved ones.

“There was smoke everywhere and the flames were knee-deep,” he said.

“It was not normal. I just told my buddy we need to get out of here.”

A man in dark glasses stands in front of the railroad tracks.

Fabian Duncan says it’s hard to convey the hardships Lytton residents and Lytton natives face in the aftermath of the devastating wildfire. (Tom Popik/CBC)

He says he hopes that everyone who has lost their homes can rebuild them and return to the area.

“Many of my peoples have lost everything they worked hard for.”

“I want to go home again”

The cleaning and restoration of Lytton was slow, difficult process this left some residents wondering if they could ever return home.

Why hasn’t this been removed yet? Why does it take so long?” Denise O’Connor asked when she took CBC on a tour of what used to be her home last week.

“I want to go home again.”

A woman in a reflective vest looks to the left as the wind blows her short, graying hair.

Denise O’Connor says she wants to rebuild her house, but first she needs the approval of Lytton officials. (Tom Popik/CBC)

After visiting hotels and motels in Kamloops and Merritt and moving with his daughter to Quesnel over the past year, O’Connor now lives in his childhood home on the south side of Highway 1, where the building was untouched by the flames.

But 30 years before the fire, O’Connor lived in a house in downtown Lytton.

She says she has become more involved in city council meetings and feels that the community has become a political pawn.

She fears that the delay in recovery is purely bureaucratic.

A charred stove amid a pile of rubble a year after the wildfire destroyed Lytton, British Columbia.

Rusty metal and burnt bricks are all that’s left in the village, a year after the forest fire destroyed the village. (Shelly Joyce/CBC)

Recovery has been ‘disappointingly slow’

The village said it hopes residents will have access to their property, or what is left of it, to begin rebuilding. by the end of September about 15 months after the fire.

But Lytton Mayor Ian Polderman expects it could be up to eight years before the community is fully restored.

“I am concerned that people will live elsewhere,” he said.

A woman with short hair and glasses smiles at the camera.

Lorna Fandrich, owner and curator of the Chinese History Museum in Lytton, which also burned down in the fire, says she hopes people can start planning to rebuild their homes by fall. (Tom Popik/CBC)

Lorna Fandrich and her husband Bernie plan to rebuild Litton Chinese History Museumwhich they opened in 2017.

The couple lost hundreds of artifacts in the fire, but say they intend to restore them as soon as possible.

“A year after the fire, our life in Lytton is quite [different]”Fandrich said.

“For many people, life is not so easy. They are not sure what their future will be.”

Weathered earthenware pots.

Some artifacts discovered at the Lytton Museum of Chinese History after a fire destroyed much of the village. (Tom Popik/CBC)

Ideally, she says, appraisals and demolition of the village should be completed by autumn, otherwise rebuilding will have to wait until spring.

“The more time passes between the reconstruction and the fire, the more difficult it will be for [residents] come and resettle in Lytton,” Bernie told Radio-Canada.

The chimney and foundation from what was once a home are all that's left of the wildfire that engulfed the town of Lytton, British Columbia.

The remains of homes and businesses still stand along the streets of Lytton as the community continues to wait to return and rebuild. (Simon Gohe/Radio Canada)

He said he was disappointed with the pace of recovery.

“It was frustratingly slow.”

Earlier this month, the federal government announced $77 million in funding to rebuild the village, including building fireproof buildings.

The provincial government has allocated more than $49 million for the restoration. Public Safety Secretary Mike Farnworth expects the recovery to begin this September.

Polderman said that without this public funding for infrastructure, the recovery would be “impossible”.

Two burned gnomes stand on a ledge near the former house.

While some residents remain hopeful for Lytton’s future, others may be considering starting life elsewhere, Lytton Mayor Jan Polderman said. (Simon Gohe/Radio Canada)

“Last year was not a pleasant one,” Polderman said.

“I don’t think anyone has the experience or knowledge to handle a situation like ours.”

A sign reading

The federal government has announced $77 million to rebuild the village, while the provincial government has provided more than $49 million. (Simon Gohe/Radio Canada)

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