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‘We were neglected’: Residents of British Columbia town decimated by fire call for accountability after fire that destroyed town

‘We were neglected’: Residents of British Columbia town decimated by fire call for accountability after fire that destroyed town
‘They predicted the heatwave, but didn’t take any precautions to protect the town,’ one evacuee of Lytton claims

Residents of a village in Canada’s British Columbia that was destroyed by a wildfire say the devastation could have been avoided if authorities had ensured they were better prepared.

A fire decimated the small town of Lytton on 30 六月 , just days after it broke the record for Canada’s all-time highest temperature for three days in a row, reaching a blistering 121.1F (49.5C).

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with Lytton mayor Jan Polderman, Lytton First Nation chief Janet Webster and Nlaka’pamux Nation Tribal Council Chief Matt Pasco in Vancouver on Thursday. The outcome of that meeting is not yet known, as no public statements have been given.

The meeting comes as Lytton residents prepare to see the fate of their town and homes for the first time since it was razed more than a week ago. A bus trip has been organised by the Thompson-Nicola Regional District to take residents back for a brief drive through Lytton, which has been cordoned off since the fire took place, 在周五.

A motorist watches from a pullout on the Trans-Canada Highway as a wildfire burns on the side of a mountain in Lytton, B.C., Thursday, 七月 1, 2021.

But for many residents, closure will not come with a trip back to inspect their destroyed homes. Many have questioned why nothing preventative was put in place to safeguard against the threat of a wildfire breaking out – when fires are common in the area and the heatwave had been forecast.

“They predicted the heatwave, but didn’t take any precautions to protect the town,” Lytton evacuee Cassandra Melanson said.

Ms Melanson said confusion still lingered over the evacuation order from the mayor, which was issued at 6pm on June 30, after the fire had already begun spreading across the town.

The order was seemingly drafted at 3.30pm, according to a timestamp on the evacuation notice, but Ms Melanson said flames had already reached her home by about 5pm.

“We were never evacuated. Most Lyttonites couldn’t even pack because they had no warning for this fire. We could and should have been warned. I cannot fathom the lack of accountability here. Everything is gone.”

然而, an Emergency Management BC spokesperson told 独立 that a “tactical evacuation” by the RCMP, who were notifying residents on the ground as the fire was being reported, was “well under way” before the evacuation order was drafted and sent out.

A helicopter pilot prepares to drop water on a wildfire burning in Lytton, B.C., 在周五, 七月 2, 2021.

Melanson says she became aware of the fire from an “ominous red and black glow” that she spotted while inside her house. By the time she had gathered some things to flee with, the fire was “nearly 20 feet tall in front of my house”.

“I went back to grab one more thing, but my living room was blazing. I ran to my car, and fire was chasing me. I was hyperventilating harder than ever.”

With her dog in her car, Ms Melanson said she drove through town trying to warn people, and called the people she knew who were living on the edge of town to try and give them warning.

She believes people could have been further confused over an evacuation order issued on 17 六月, for the Kitzowit 20 Indian Reserve of the Lytton First Nation, which was rescinded days later. This gave people a “false sense of security”, rather than being prepared to evacuate again.

Ms Melanson said villagers had also raised concerns days earlier over the extreme heat in the town.

“If only they listened,“ 她说. “Some people were asking the trains to reduce frequency during the heatwave because of the constant sparks. But whatever caused it, it really doesn’t matter. It was going to happen anyway.”

In this aerial photo taken from a helicopter, structures destroyed by wildfire are seen in Lytton, British Columbia, 星期四, 七月 1, 2021.

City councillors from Lytton released their first statement on the fire on July 6, almost a week after the town was destroyed.

It said that councillors were alerted when someone “banged on the office windows after hours”.

Staff immediately contacted mayor Jan Polderman and the Lytton Volunteer Fire Department Fire Hall, only to find that firefighters were already battling fires.

“The mayor quickly reached out to several contacts to attempt to confirm the severity of the fire. He also called 911 and was informed that the local RCMP were already evacuating residents. The mayor immediately contacted the Thompson-Nicola Regional District to let them know that he was ordering a full evacuation.”

The fire then spread east across the town with “ferocious speed”, leaving almost every home in the centre of the village simply “charred earth”.

“Infrastructure has been destroyed. What has not been melted, incinerated or damaged beyond repair has been compromised to the point of being unsafe,” the statement added.

The death toll remains at two. There are currently no missing persons associated with the fire, according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).

Flames rise from a burning building along a street during a wildfire in Lytton, British Columbia, Canada June 30, 2021 in this still image obtained from a social media video on July 1, 2021.

British Columbia’s public safety minister Mike Farnworth admitted this week that communication with First Nations leaders “didn’t live up to expectations”, after Nlaka’pamux Nation Tribal Council chair Matt Pasco lambasted the lack of evacuation communication with indigenous communities as “sickening”, in an interview with CBC. Mr Pasco said it took hours for emergency authorities to respond to his requests for co-ordination and assistance.

An Emergency Management BC spokesperson told 独立 that they were now working to put better systems in place “based on lessons learned”.

“There were challenging factors in this situation which made it difficult for early communication and the Ministry has taken immediate steps to address gaps in protocols that contributed to this.”

Pierre Quevillon said decision makers in the town need to “wake up” and install better warning systems and preparation guidelines for wildfires.

“All these small communities in BC, they’re going to have to change the systems. There needs to be better warnings or [the fires] are going to be everywhere.

“It’s already happened three times, there have been big fires here three times. And nobody figured it out, that we have to put in a friggin’ siren to advise people to get out.”

Lytton survivor Neil Dycke agreed that a warning system should be installed, similar to that of a tsunami alarm in coastal areas. Mr Dycke is 72 years old and does not drive, so evacuation was especially difficult for him. He was rescued from the side of the road by Mr Quevillon and driven to the emergency services centre in Chilliwack, 176 kilometres away.