British Columbia

B.C. man says he watched in horror as Lytton wildfire claimed the lives of his parents

Jeff Chapman of Lytton, B.C., says he watched in helpless horror as his parents were killed Wednesday while they were taking cover from a wildfire that raged across their property and eventually destroyed most of the village.

Jeff Chapman says a power line fell on a trench where his parents sheltered as fire tore through property

'It came in so fast we had nowhere to go,' said Jeff Chapman about the wildfire that swept through his parents' property in Lytton, B.C., on Wednesday. Chapman said his parents died while taking cover from the blaze, though officials haven't been able to confirm their deaths. (Susan da Silva/CBC)

WARNING: This story contains graphic details.

A Lytton, B.C., resident says he watched in helpless horror as his parents were killed while taking cover from a wildfire that raged across their property and eventually destroyed most of the village.

Jeff Chapman says he saw a power line fall onto a trench where his parents were sheltering after flames engulfed their home. After the fire passed, he said he saw their bodies.

Officials have been unable to confirm the deaths because the area is still inaccessible.

Watch The National's report:

Son says he couldn’t save parents from Lytton, B.C., fire

2 years ago
Duration 3:11
An emotionally distraught man describes trying to save his parents from the fire in Lytton, B.C., after flames swept through their property and killed them.

Chapman says he and his parents, who were in their 60s, were preparing for a late afternoon barbecue when they noticed smoke and flames in the distance. 

'We had nowhere to go'

"Ten minutes later, our house is fully engulfed. There was nothing we could do. It came in so fast, we had nowhere to go," he said.

As the blaze engulfed the house as well as sheds and trees on the property, Chapman says he helped his parents take shelter in a trench that had been dug to repair a septic system. 

WATCH | Jeff Chapman recalls reacting to wildfire: 

Lytton, B.C., resident says both parents were killed in devastating wildfire

2 years ago
Duration 0:42
Jeff Chapman says he watched in helpless horror as his parents were killed while they were taking cover from the wildfire that would go on to destroy the village.

As high winds whipped flames and smoke all around him, Chapman said he ran to some nearby railroad tracks, hoping the fire would pass.

That's when he said the power line crashed down across the trench where his parents were sheltering.

"I knew my parents were in that hole and I'm watching the house burn and I'm thinking, 'Oh my God.' 

"The power line pulled right out of the house, and it came right down on my parents."

Chapman said he was certain the blaze would take him next as he lay exhausted, barely able to breathe. But the fire moved through the area as quickly as it arrived and he said he was eventually able to head back to the property.

"I wish I didn't. I seen my mom and dad's remains, burned," he said.

Flames burn in the background of a photograph taken by a person sheltering by railroad tracks, which can be seen in the foreground.
Chapman says he took this photo, showing flames engulfing his parents' house, as he took shelter from the fire on nearby railroad tracks. (Submitted by Jeff Chapman)

Coroners, police to search town

Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe says the deaths of Chapman's parents have not been confirmed because officials have so far been unable to get close to the area.

"The plan is to have coroners and police go in this morning," said Lapointe early Friday. "It was too dangerous to get anybody in last night."

More than 1,000 people fled the village and surrounding area Wednesday, and RCMP are working to locate those unaccounted for.

Lytton First Nation acting Chief John Haugen has been urging people to connect with family and friends left scattered by the evacuation. He was in the downtown area when the fire moved through.

"There was sheer panic. It blew in and just took everything in its path," he said.

Most of Lytton was destroyed in the June 30 fire. (Edith Loring Kuhanga/Facebook)

Haugen says it will take the community months, if not years, to move through the trauma of Wednesday's fire.

"It's never going to be the same," he said. "But it will always be in people's memories and minds."

Chapman has been reunited with the family's dogs but is struggling to come to terms with what unfolded Wednesday.

"I feel like it's my fault," he said.

"I did the best I could at that time. No one knows what to do in a situation like that."

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 Susana da Silva