A small village in British Columbia burned to the ground one day after suffering through the hottest temperature ever recorded in Canada and several of its residents are still missing.
On Wednesday night, as a fire suddenly began boring down on the village of Lytton, which has a population of around 250 people, police went door to door and ordered the residents to evacuate their homes as soon as possible. Michael Farnworth, B.C.’s public safety minister, said the blaze burned almost the entire town to the ground.
"Most homes and structures in the village, as well as the ambulance station and the RCMP detachment, have been lost," Michael Farnworth said at a news conference on Thursday. "I also understand that some residents have not been accounted for and their location is currently being investigated by the RCMP."
“We got a phone call from emergency alert and I didn’t believe them,” evacuee Sharon Brown told Global News. “I looked out the door and there was fire everywhere. And my house burned down right after my daughter picked me up.”
The B.C. Coroners Service has yet to confirm if there have been any deaths, according to the Canadian Press.
The number of residents unaccounted for is unknown. The fire destroyed several cellular towers which has hampered the evacuees’ ability to contact loved ones. The province has set up emergency reception centres and is urging residents to sign up. Because of the lack of cell service, officials do not even know if residents remain in the village.
“Being without any cell service — that’s everybody’s lifeline. Nobody can contact each other,” an evacuee told Global News. “We’re going into Spence’s Bridge (a small B.C. community) to get some cell service and finally just get some relief, let everybody know we’re OK.”
Structures destroyed by wildfire are seen in Lytton, B.C., on Thursday, July 1, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Several wildfires are ripping through the province at the moment, including one near Lytton, but B.C. Premier John Horgan said that the blaze was not caused by a nearby wildfire.
“We do not yet know what started the fire in Lytton,” said Horgan on Thursday. “There was little or no time to warn the community. In fact, it was the mayor himself that got the first whiff. Within minutes the city was engulfed.”
Horgan said that he heard anecdotal information that the fire was sparked by a train going through the city but that a full investigation is underway. “The Globe and Mail reported Friday that CN is actively investigating if the fire was started by one of their trains.
Shortly before the blaze, the little-known town became famous in Canada for breaking numerous heat records. On Sunday, the town set a heat record with 46.6°C, then on Monday, it broke its own record after hitting 47.9°C. On June 29 it got even hotter, reaching 49.6°C (121.3°F), which beat out Las Vegas’ heat record of 47.2°C. It now stands as the hottest temperature ever recorded in Canada.
The residents are now left to process the fact that not only have their homes been burned to the ground but that possible neighbours are missing. Multiple GoFundMe campaigns have been started for the victims, several of which have raised over $100,000.
In a press release about the shattered heat records, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said the heat experienced in Lytton is “more typical of summer temperatures in the Middle East than a province which is home to the Rocky Mountains and Glacier National Park.”
British Columbia is not alone in experiencing severe spikes in temperature.
“The Northwest Territories have recorded their all-time highest temperatures not just in June, but any point in the year,” Armel Castella, a meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada, said in the press release. “ We are setting records that have no business in being set so early in the season.”
The WMO believes that heat records will continue to be broken as the summer carries on.
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