LYTTON, B.C. – A Delta, B.C., resident who owns a home in Lytton that was charred by a wildfire that tore through the village says the devastation is “breathtakingly shocking” after getting a glimpse of the area Friday.
Jennifer Thoss was one of the people who went on a bus organized by the Thompson-Nicola Regional District to get a first-hand look at what was left after flames ravaged the community on June 30.
“It’s all flat,” she said in an interview. “It looks like it’s powder. Oh, it’s very haunting.”
The bus went only down Main Street and there was “some frustration” that residents couldn’t see all of Lytton and were not allowed to get off the vehicle, Thoss said.
“Fraser Street that runs parallel to Main Street is where a lot of the people who were on the bus lived or had their homes, including myself, and it was not part of the official route,” she said.
“So, as a community, we really wanted to go down Fraser Street. They said it was impossible.”
Thoss had elderly tenants who rented her place on Fraser Street who are now at an evacuation centre in Merritt, B.C.
Earlier Friday, federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra ordered all train traffic through Lytton to halt for 48 hours while residents were on escorted tours through the village.
The district said unescorted entry to Lytton isn’t safe but work had been done to clear a way to permit taking residents through the area.
“The bus was very quiet,” Thoss said, describing the mood of the people in the vehicle.
Some people chose not to take the tour because it was “too emotional and too soon,” she said. They exchanged stories of escape and “near death.”
One of them was Jeff Chapman, who lost both his parents in the fire.
He said he knows what the area looks like.
“I was there during the fire,” he said.
He understands that everyone has their “own way of grieving,” which is what the tour provided to some, he said.
“I would rather mourn by myself.”
No cause for the fire that destroyed much of the village and killed two people has been disclosed, although local Indigenous leaders say train movement during drought-like conditions made people anxious.
The tour came at the same time that the Transportation Safety Board announced an investigation into the cause of the fire, saying new information pointed to the possibility that a freight train set off the inferno.
More than 200 wildfires are burning in B.C. as a recent heat wave and parched conditions combined to raise the fire risk in many parts of the province to high or extreme.
Another resident who chose not to go was Tricia Thorpe. She said she “went rogue” Monday and went to get her animals out. She also added that her house was outside of Lytton and the tour was just downtown.
Thorpe has puppies, alpacas and sheep that survived the fire.
Finding nine of her puppies and her 13-year-old “badass cat, Simba,” alive were “rays of hope,” she said.
“Our place was levelled,” Thorpe said. “It was our retirement dream. It was sad.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 10, 2021.