Residents flee as Canadian village of Lytton is engulfed in flames

Over the past week, Western Canada has seen an unprecedented heat wave resulting from a weather phenomenon dubbed a “heat dome,” likely related to global warming. The city of Lytton in the Canadian province of British Columbia registered the highest temperature ever in the country of 49.6°C on Tuesday, June 29. The city was evacuated as forest fires threatened to engulf the city.

“Our poor little town of Lytton is gone.” With these words, Edith Loring Kubango, a resident of Lytton, began her account of the city’s evacuation, in a text posted on Facebook on June 30. “We are all in shock! Our community members have lost everything,” she wrote. .

Lytton is a small village of 250 people at the confluence of the Fraser River and the Thompson River. About 90% of it was destroyed by forest fires. Loring Kubango posted several photos of the village covered in smoke and flames.

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Indigenous cultural organization 2 Rivers Remix Society published two videos, almost apocalyptic in nature, showing the locations around Lytton where wildfires had started. More than 1,700 people live in rural areas around the village or in six reserves belonging to the Nlaka’pamux indigenous community.

Des bâtiments en feu à Lytton, on June 30, 2021. Cette vidéo compile deux clips filmés depuis une voiture, publiés par l’association 2 Rivers Remix Society. © 2 Rivers Remix Society

Other residents shared videos of houses going up in flames and the plumes of smoke descending over the city as they began to evacuate.

In a Facebook Live, Lytton resident Nanette Phillips-Smith recounted the events:

I left Lytton. Lytton doesn’t have cell service, so I don’t know what’s going on right now. […] I’m going to Kamloops and see if there’s a way to get hold of my dad and my kids on their own. I don’t know what else to do.

Organizing solidarity efforts

Lytton Mayor Jan Polderman said each resident had been issued an evacuation order and told to go to the town of Boston Bar where they would be received.

“It’s terrible. The whole city is on fire,” Polderman told Canadian media CBC News. “It took about 15 minutes from the first sign of smoke to suddenly fire everywhere.”

Other neighboring towns such as Merritt opened welcome centers for people fleeing Lytton. Meanwhile, residents of Lytton and other towns use Facebook to find their loved ones, send messages of solidarity, and provide shelter and food to those who escape.

A woman posted this offer of help in a local Facebook group. We blurred her name and number. © Facebook

The heat wave has hit the entire western region around the Canada-US border. The rising temperatures have been caused by a high-pressure “heat dome” that traps hot air. Such high temperatures can be deadly for vulnerable people, such as the elderly. Canadian authorities recorded 486 deaths in the province of British Columbia between June 25 and June 30, compared to an average of 165 — a 195% increase from normal numbers over the same period. While one extreme weather event cannot be directly linked to climate change, a man-made rise in global temperature is helping to increase the intensity of heat waves.

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