British Columbia

Village of Lytton, B.C., evacuated as mayor says 'the whole town is on fire'

Several out-of-control wildfires burning in other parts of province after heat wave

Posted: June 30, 2021
Last Updated: July 01, 2021

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The hottest place in the country, Lytton, B.C., became an inferno on Wednesday as fire tore through the town and drove all the residents out. (2 Rivers Remix Society/Vimeo)  2:47

A small B.C. village that endured the hottest temperatures ever recorded in Canada for days on end this week was engulfed in flames Wednesday night and residents were forced to flee, many without their belongings. 

Mayor Jan Polderman says he told everyone to leave Lytton, as a fire rapidly spread into the community of about 250 people. He signed the official evacuation order at 6 p.m. PT.

"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."

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He said he told residents to head for the nearby community of Boston Bar, and was on his way there himself. A reception centre has also been set up in Merritt to the east, and other residents have taken shelter in Lillooet to the north.

"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 said.

Video captured by residents rushing out of town show numerous structures on fire in every direction.

Later Wednesday night, residents of another 87 properties to the north of Lytton were ordered to leave home as well.

Watch | Bystander video shows fire in Lytton:

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A sudden, rapidly spreading fire in Lytton on B.C.'s Fraser River forced hundreds of people from their homes with little to no notice on June 30, 2021. (Supplied by Gary Abbott)  2:33

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Earlier this week, Lytton, about 150 kilometres northeast of Vancouver, recorded the highest temperature ever seen in Canada on three consecutive days, topping out at 49.6 C on Tuesday as an unprecedented heat wave scorched Western Canada.

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 or the cause of it. She said the B.C. Wildfire Service is diverting crews and equipment from other areas to respond to the fire.

Winds of up to 71 kilometres an hour were pushing the fire north into the community as of 7 p.m. PT, according to CBC meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe. She said the hot, dry and windy conditions in the area could mean the fire is moving at 10 or even 20 kilometres an hour.

Michelle Nordstrom with the Thompson-Nicola Regional District said local officials are scrambling to coordinate the evacuation as it happened so suddenly and Lytton residents were fleeing the town in any direction they could.

Another spokesperson for the regional district 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.

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Firefighters were already dealing with at least two other wildfires in the area when the latest fire moved in on Lytton. The George Road wildfire, burning south of Lytton, was last estimated to be 350 hectares at 2:26 p.m. PT, and the nearby Conte Creek fire was estimated at 1.5 hectares.

WATCH | Lytton, B.C., evacuated as town engulfed by wildfire:

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Residents of a village in the B.C. Interior have been told to evacuate after wildfires swept in following a record-breaking heat wave.  3:32

Edith Loring-Kuhanga, an administrator at Stein Valley Nlakapamux School in Lytton, fled to Lillooet in a caravan with about 100 other local residents. 

"It's just unbelievable. You can't even comprehend it," she told CBC Radio. "Our entire town is gone."

Loring-Kuhanga said that when the fire was first reported, she was asked to set up a muster station at the school, but soon got the word that it wouldn't be possible to stay. She and others left town without their livestock, pets or treasured belongings like photo albums.

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"There's so many people in shock. We're all in shock," she said.

DriveBC is reporting that fires have closed highways to the north and south of Lytton. As of 6 p.m. PT, Highway 1 was closed between Boston Bar and Spences Bridge, while Highway 12 is closed from Lillooet to the junction with Highway 1.

Fires spreading through Interior

Wildfire crews across the Interior spent Wednesday dealing with aggressive fires in the aftermath of this week's record-breaking heat wave.

A growing number of people were being forced out of their homes and multiple highways were closed as existing fires spread and new ones were sparked in the hot and dry conditions.

Severe thunderstorms were also in the forecast Wednesday night in the Interior and central B.C., with lightning, strong winds and not much precipitation expected.

"I've never seen wildfire conditions this extreme," Wagstaffe said. "We're going to see conditions like this for the rest of the week, unfortunately."

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Video captured by a Lytton resident fleeing the B.C. community on June 30, 2021 shows numerous structures on fire. (2 Rivers Remix Society/Vimeo)

The Sparks Lake wildfire, 15 kilometres northwest of Kamloops Lake, is now an estimated at 200 square kilometres and has forced the evacuation of more than 160 homes.

The B.C. Wildfire Service says 56 firefighters are on site fighting the blaze, as well as 10 helicopters and two pieces of heavy equipment. Fire information officer Madison Smith said helicopters struggled with the heat on Tuesday, and some were grounded as their engines overheated. 

Marshall Potts and Jo-Anne Beharrell, who live about 1.5 kilometres from the fire, were ordered to leave the area Tuesday afternoon.

They packed up their vehicle on Monday night, knowing they'd likely have to leave at the drop of a hat. 

"It was very stressful," Beharrell said. "The not knowing and wanting to get back and check on everything is really overwhelming."

Not far away, the Mckay Creek fire burning 23 kilometres north of Lillooet has grown to 60 square kilometres and is classified as out of control. There are 24 firefighters on scene, along with four helicopters and five pieces of heavy equipment, and several properties have been evacuated.

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Meanwhile, Highway 97 north is closed for 59 kilometres between Sikanni Chief Road and Prophet River Sub Road, in order to protect the public from two wildfires near the Pink Mountain area in northern B.C. An evacuation order has been issued in relation to that fire as well.

That fire is currently listed at 48 square kilometres and was sparked by lightning.

Late Wednesday, two new fires were reported north of Big White in the Okanagan, and firefighters were reporting aggressive fire growth and heavy smoke that could be seen from Kelowna, Vernon and other nearby communities.

Together, they are estimated to measure about three square kilometres.

In the Cariboo, a fire sparked Wednesday about 35 kilometres east of Horsefly has led to the closure of the McKinley Lake recreation campsite. Thirty-two-firefighters are responding along with a helicopter.

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The wildfire service says the fire is highly visible from the surrounding communities but no structures are currently at risk.

A plume of smoke from the Sparks Lake wildfire, burning northwest of Kamloops, B.C., covered an estimated 40 square kilometres as of Wednesday morning. (MLAZZ Creative by Matt Lazzarotto)

With files from Meera Bains, Daybreak Kamloops, Daybreak South and The Canadian Press