Officials said Thursday that a fast-moving wildfire that engulfed the small town “within minutes” following an intense heat wave has “devastated” the Canadian village that set an all-time national heat record this week.
According to British Columbia Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth, the fire destroyed “most homes and structures in the village” of Lytton, and several residents are missing.
More than 1,000 people in and around Lytton were forced to flee in a hurry Wednesday night as flames quickly moved in, according to BC Premier John Horgan.
“Lytton has been devastated and it will take an extraordinary amount of effort to get that historic location back to what it was,” Horgan said.
The mayor of the village, who quickly alerted residents to the impending wildfire and issued an evacuation order, has been “traumatized,” according to Horgan.
According to a news release from the village, Mayor Jan Polderman issued the evacuation order late Wednesday, advising residents to “leave the community and go to a safe location.”
“It’s dire. The whole town is on fire,” Polderman told CBC News. “It took, like, a whole 15 minutes from the first sign of smoke to, all of a sudden, there being fire everywhere.”
“At the First Nation band office, the fire was a wall about three, four feet high coming up to the fence line. I drove through town, and it was just smoke, flames, the wires were down,” Polderman told the Canadian broadcast network.
Residents fleeing the town captured video of numerous structures on fire in all directions.
According to a Facebook post by Brad Vis, a member of Parliament who represents the Lytton area, 90 percent of the village is burned, including the center.
According to Vis’ post, the fire damaged hydro stations as well as rail and highway infrastructure.
Lytton has a population of about 250 people and is located about 195 miles east of Vancouver.
Two wildfires have closed highways to the north and south of Lytton, according to DriveBC, which provides information on driving conditions in the province.
The fast-moving fire broke out after a historic heat wave wreaked havoc on the Northwest United States and Western Canada. According to the BC Wildfire Dashboard, there are currently 99 active fires in British Columbia, with 76 of them burning in the last two days.
In the last 24 hours, 29,000 lightning strikes were recorded, sparking multiple wildfires, according to Horgan.
“I cannot stress enough how extreme the fire risk is at this time in every part of British Columbia,” Horgan said.
The premier said he discussed the situation with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who promised the federal government would send resources to the area if needed.
Farnworth described the fire as “catastrophic” for the Lytton community and said he may declare a state of emergency depending on how the fire season progresses.
Climate change, according to Horgan, is causing more destructive wildfires in the region.
“I regret to say that this is the third of five years of horrific fires in my time in this job,” he said. “This is not how we usually roll in a temperate rainforest.”
“We are in a changing environment, and climate change is affecting all of our lives in meaningful ways,” the premier said. “It’s graphic when you see the record temperatures that we’ve experienced in every corner of British Columbia.”
The BC Wildfire Service responded to the “evolving situation” in Lytton by assisting the village’s fire department in a tweet early Thursday.
According to its Facebook page, the nearby city of Merritt has opened a reception center for Lytton evacuees.
On Tuesday, the temperature in Lytton reached 121° F (49.5° C), the highest temperature ever recorded in Canada. According to ECCC Weather British Columbia, it was the third day in a row that records were broken in the area.
The province has had 450 fires so far this year, according to the report.
Extreme temperatures have had a devastating impact on the province, with more than 230 deaths reported in British Columbia since Friday, officials said Tuesday.
The province’s chief coroner called it an “unprecedented time.”
“Since the onset of the heat wave late last week, the BC Coroners Service has experienced a significant increase in deaths reported where it is suspected that extreme heat has been contributory,” Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe said in a statement.