British Columbia

'Overwhelming' support pours in for victims of Lytton fire

After a fire ravaged Lytton, B.C., earlier this week, the public has stepped up to  help those displaced.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been raised for people forced from their homes

The Katzie First Nation in the Fraser Valley community of Pitt Meadows has organized a donation centre to collect goods for the evacuees from the Lytton wildfire. (Joel Ballard/CBC News)

After a fire ravaged Lytton, B.C., earlier this week, the public has stepped up to help with donations in a big way. Groups, individuals and First Nations are gathering funds and supplies to help hundreds of people who fled as their homes burned on June 30.

Chelsea Carlson works with the Savage Society, a group of Indigenous performers who use myths, historical stories and contemporary tales to create theatre and film. They have performed in Lytton in B.C.'s southern Interior for the last several years. 

"[I felt] fear and devastation and so terrified for the folks that we [have] come to know and love and care for and what they were dealing with in that moment," said Carlson. 

Carlson initially set a fundraising goal of $20,000 but a colleague immediately told her to bump it to $50,000. By Sunday afternoon, the Savage Society fundraiser had amassed more than $340,000. The group says funds will be used to help people with their immediate needs and also future reconstruction in the area.

The Village of Lytton has a population of about 250 with an estimated 1,500 additional people living on First Nation reserves in and near the community.

Vehicles were stretched for blocks on the Katzie First Nation Sunday, packed with donations. (Joel Ballard/CBC News)

A separate fundraiser by Lauren and Rob Austen has collected almost $50,000. Lauren Austen said on her GoFundMe page that she moved to Lytton in 2007 and has since become a teacher at a local school.

"We felt pretty helpless knowing a lot of our friends and people we consider family were caught up in this tragedy," said Lauren.

"It's just like a death. That's all I can compare it to. A close family member dying.  Every time I think about it. It just drops me... Brings me to tears," said Rob. 

Chief Grace George and members of the Katzie First Nations say they hope to help those most in need. (Joel Ballard/CBC News)

Rallying together

Chief Grace George and members of the Katzie First Nations in B.C.'s Fraser Valley have been overwhelmed by community support. 

"It's overwhelming. Emotionally overwhelming — the best kind. But its really beautiful to find people rally together and really our intention is to let the people who are struggling the most right now know they are not alone," she said. 

People showed up with everything from food and clothes to toys which will be distributed where the need is greatest. 

"I initially had a ten-foot U-Haul truck that we were going to be using, but as the response grew we had community members come forward to volunteer with big, larger trailers," said George. 

Needs will be 'immense' 

The response has been similar at other donations centres.

Shannon Jones is the executive director of Advantage Hope, an organization that promotes a sustainable economy in Hope and the nearby Fraser Canyon. She helped set up a Lytton relief effort  that's looking for both tangible items and monetary donations. 

The group turned a tourism centre in Abbotsford into a donation depot this week. 

"We had three big moving trucks, four pickups and we convoyed up and it was unreal. We pulled up to Tuckkwiowhum village and we filled the long house and the community centre in Boston Bar," said Jones.

Shannon Jones, the executive director of Advantage Hope, turned an Abbotsford tourism centre into a donation depot to aid Lytton residents.  (Joel Ballard/CBC News)

They are specifically looking for gift cards for gas, food and other essential services. They are also looking for camping gear, cardboard boxes for moving, and electronics like cellphones with chargers, laptops and cameras. They are asking the public to donate items in boxes rather than bags whenever possible. 

No large items, such as mattresses and furniture, will be accepted at this time. 

A Facebook group has also formed to offer accommodation and other support to people hit by by natural disasters in B.C.

Canadian Red Cross has also set up a donation fund to help those affected by fires across the province. 

"Years of experience have shown us that the needs from a disaster of this magnitude will be immense, and we are committed to supporting communities in the days, weeks and months ahead," wrote Patrick Quealey, vice-president, British Columbia and Yukon, Canadian Red Cross in a press release.

The Red Cross says donations will be used for immediate and ongoing relief efforts, long-term recovery, resiliency and preparedness for future events in B.C. and any other impacted regions.

Anyone placed under an evacuation order must leave the area immediately. 

Evacuation centres have been set up in the following locations to assist anyone evacuating from a community under threat from a wildfire: 

  • Castlegar: Castlegar Community Complex, 2102 6th Ave.
  • Chilliwack: Chilliwack Senior Secondary, 46363 Yale Rd.
  • Kelowna: Salvation Army, 1480 Sutherland Ave.
  • Merritt: Merritt Civic Centre, 1950 Mamette Ave.

Evacuees are encouraged to register with Emergency Support Services online, whether or not they access services at an evacuation centre.

Those looking for loved ones can contact the Canadian Red Cross for family reunification services at 1-800-863-6582.


With files from Joel Ballard