As Lytton burns, and new fires overnight, Kamloops fire chief warns: 'Lytton could be us' | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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As Lytton burns, and new fires overnight, Kamloops fire chief warns: 'Lytton could be us'

Screenshot from video of a drive through Lytton last night, June 30, as a wildfire move straight through the village.
Image Credit: VIMEO/2 Rivers Remix Society
July 01, 2021 - 8:17 AM

As fire crews assess the damage in Lytton overnight, more than a dozen new fires have sprung up in the Cariboo and Kamloops is warning residents to be vigilant so the city isn’t next.

The Village of Lytton was evacuated last night as fire tore through the community of roughly 250 people, 167 kms west of Kamloops. Video of the area suggest many homes and structures have been lost.

Erica Berg, a provincial fire information officer, said the evacuation order was issued about an hour after the blaze began but she did not know the size of the wildfire.

"We're in intense response mode so our main priority is getting resources to the area," she said, adding multiple fire engines had been sent to Lytton from various locations.

Scott Hildebrand, chief administrative officer of the regional district, said the evacuation order for the village was issued as soon as possible.

"It didn't matter because people were already fleeing," he said, adding smoke blanketed the area within minutes and structures were burning as residents left.

He said about 1,000 people in First Nations communities may also be ordered to evacuate, but it was hard to get in contact with their local governments.

"It happened so quickly that we're struggling to connect with everybody because power is down, cellphone lines are down. It's a tough situation."

Hildebrand said a reception centre has been set up in Kamloops but some people may have gone to Merritt or Boston Bar.

"That direction was the safest, I think. That's part of our struggle now is that we don't have people registered and we don't understand exactly where everybody went."

Jo-Anne Beharrell and Marshall Potts were ordered from their home on Tuesday, a day before the latest evacuation alert.

They first spotted the fire around 5 p.m. on Monday from their kitchen window when it was about 1.5 kilometres from their front yard.

"It looked like, you know, a small brush fire but we knew there was a problem," Potts said in an interview Wednesday evening from Pinantan Lake, just outside of Kamloops where the couple are staying with family.

Beharrell said the heat wave has made the area “very dry, very dusty."

"I'm telling you it was like being in the desert," she said.

They drove back to the village Wednesday afternoon to check on their friends and neighbours.

"There's a massive, massive white cloud over the whole area," Beharrell said.

"It definitely feels dystopian, that's for sure. It definitely feels apocalyptic."

Major highways in the area, including the Trans-Canada Highway, were closed because of the fire.

Lytton Coun. Robert Leitch said the fire that caused the evacuation order started south of town around 5:15 p.m. and spread within 15 minutes, and that's when he left.

"When I first saw the smoke at the south end of town coming up really fast, I told my partner that, well, you know, that fire is breaking inside the village. Let's get our stuff in the truck," he said, adding that they are staying with friends in Ashcroft.

"So we went around, backed up the truck, packed everything up, knocked on a few neighbours' doors, and by that time the fire was already 100 metres from my house."

Berg said earlier Wednesday that wildfire service members were battling another small fire near Lytton, in the same area where crews have been working to control the 350-hectare George Road fire, which forced evacuation alerts after breaking out last week.

Meanwhile, a severe thunderstorm near 100 Mile House last night has touched off at least 16 new fires in that area.

"All of these wildfires are being assessed and will be actioned in a priority sequence,” B.C. Wildfire said. "Ground crews, helicopters, air tankers, members from volunteer fire departments and heavy equipment have responded and will continue to do so over the coming days.”

Temperatures are finally starting to decrease from a record-breaking heat wave this week that pushed up to 48 C. Today’s forecast high in Kamloops is 36 C but with a 30% chance of showers and a risk of more thunderstorms this evening. The region remains under a heat warning by Environment Canada and conditions that make firefighting particularly difficult.

"The duration of this heat wave is concerning as there is little relief at night with elevated overnight temperatures," the heat warning says.

The fires have also prompted an air quality advisory for the region because of increasing smoke.

Kamloops fire chief Steve Robinson said the situation in Lytton, and the extreme conditions around the province generally, should have everyone taking precautions.

“Fast moving fires with these types of conditions can quickly overwhelm local resources. We are at risk here and are asking everyone in Kamloops to take extreme care,” he said in a release. "We haven’t  seen conditions like this in Kamloops ever before. I want citizens  to know that the fire conditions are beyond dangerous. Everybody needs to take extreme care. Because Lytton could be us.”

The Sparks Lake wildfire, the largest in the region, has shown rarely-seen-before growth. Just discovered Monday, June 28, the fire was estimated last night at 20,000 hectares or 200 square kilometres. A growing list of homes and properties in the Thompson-Nicola Regional District are under evacuation order or alert. For the latest on those, go to the TNRD website.

— with files from The Canadian Press

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