Nohomin Creek wildfire brings back difficult memories of Lytton for evacuees

With the Nohomin Creek wildfire nearby still out of control, Lytton First Nation evacuees recount harrowing escapes as they await news of family members, and of their homes. Martin MacMahon reports from Lytton.

By Martin MacMahon and Hana Mae Nassar

Dozens of members of the Lytton First Nation have been forced from their homes, as the Nohomin Creek wildfire threatens their community.

Speaking to CityNews in Cache Creek Monday, many evacuees were following the latest developments anxiously from a distance.

John Aleck didn’t even get an evacuation order. He says the fire started so fast that he was forced on Sunday to jump into his sister’s neighbour’s pick-up, where 11 people clung to each other on a harrowing ride out of the area.

“She said, ‘Get in the truck! Get in the truck!’ and we had to fly up to Lillooet because it was on our side again. That grass fire just rages, so you have to get out of Dodge before the fire,” he recalled.

“It was pretty devastating because I have a lot of valuables and stuff in the house — everybody does. You’ve got pictures, a lot of momentos. So that’s what we’re praying for.”

The Lytton First Nation sits on the east side of the Thompson River — right where it branches off from the Fraser. The Nohomin Creek fire started burning on the west side of the Fraser River, prompting evacuation orders and alerts across both the First Nation and parts of the Thompson-Nicola Regional District.

After the catastrophic fire of 2021, which all but destroyed the Village of Lytton, the Nohomin Creek blaze is bringing up some difficult memories.

“It’s pretty sad because we just went through it already, and our whole community’s burnt up. Now, everything else is burning up. It’s just like a string of bad things that happened because we live in the hottest spot in Canada,” he told CityNews.

“It’s pretty traumatic because you don’t know. We lost our whole community last year and people still haven’t recovered from that. The first time I walked through Lytton after the fire, I cried openly and I know a lot of people who said the same thing. All of our childhood [memories] are gone, places we used to run … When you lost everything, it’s hard to imagine how we’re going to be able to start over because it’s just a flat spot there.”

Last year, just days before the catastrophic fire, Lytton recorded Canada’s hottest temperature on three separate days. The fire came amid a heat dome that had engulfed the province, with the mercury soaring in many areas.

The Nohomin Creek fire has brought back difficult memories for Denise O’Connor, who lost her home to the Lytton Creek fire in 2021. She now watches this situation unfold with a sense of dread.

“All of us were saying, ‘What else could happen? Nothing else could happen because we’ve seen the worst.’ And then, lo and behold, another fire, another fire that’s taken out homes again. It’s so unimaginable,” she told CityNews.

Aleck says he didn’t have time to pack and doesn’t know for sure whether or not his home is still standing.

As he waits, he admits the trauma left from what happened just a year ago resurfaces. But he’s thankful for the help provided by Emergency Support Services, adding many of these responders were also around in 2021.

“When I went to get gas, it was panic city down at our local gas station. People were crying, asking where to go if they’re evacuated, where do they go, what to do. They were just retraumatized,” Lytton First Nation Chief Janet Webster told CityNews earlier Monday.

She notes there’s no ferry service running in the community due to the fire, adding to challenges for many.

As of Monday night, the Nohomin Creek wildfire was an estimated 2,000 hectares in size. It is burning 1.7 kilometres northwest of Lytton.

The fire continues to burn in steep, mountainous terrain, posing a challenge to the dozens of people currently battling the blaze. The Lytton First Nation has volunteers assisting in BC Wildfire Service efforts.

“Winds this afternoon were challenging, gusting up to 60 km/hr on site but the containment lines the crews have been building on the south, east and north flanks held up well against these gusts,” the BC Wildfire Service wrote in its update Monday, just after 10 p.m.

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“A warming and drying trend is expected to persist throughout the week. With less cloud cover, sunny weather and temperatures warming up more quickly throughout the day, relative humidity’s will be lower than over the weekend and fuels will continue to dry out. This is expected to contribute to increased fire behaviour and fire activity, creating potentially volatile conditions during peak burning times.”

While progress is being made in some areas of the fire, concern remains for the many people forced from their homes, as well as others who have been put on notice.

The fire has destroyed several homes already.

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