Lytton rebuild taking too long, residents say, ahead of rally

Residents of Lytton are set to rally in their community over how long it’s taking to rebuild the village after it was virtually completely destroyed by a wildfire in 2021.

It’s been more than two years since the town was forced to flee as fast-moving flames bared down on their homes.

“I miss home everyday. I miss having my spot that I can call my own. I miss being able to walk out in my yard and cut my lawn on Sundays and move the sprinkler, say hi to my neighbour. It was just a really heartfelt, warm community,” said local Kathryn Brooks.

Brooks stresses she’s devastated for all the communities that have been affected by wildfires. And given their personal experience, she says the residents of Lytton can relate to those who experienced devastation this year and other years.

However, Brooks says it’s difficult for her and her neighbours to watch people in other communities around B.C. be able to start rebuilding faster than they’ve been able to in Lytton.

“Not quite a year after the Lytton fire, Monte Lake’s fire was after ours, over by Vernon. And I went through Monte Lake and I was shocked — and very happy for them, don’t get me wrong — that they were already rebuilding. And I didn’t understand — I didn’t understand — why could we not even go to our property and they’ve already got Tyvek up on their new buildings? And, to be honest, it just made me angry, very angry and very deflated and very lost in the wind,” she told CityNews.

There have been several factors that have contributed to the delays in rebuilding Lytton. The province says the soil was contaminated and hazardous, adding it took many months before safety standards could be met.

Also, because Lytton stood on the site of a traditional First Nations village, there need to be archaeological reviews of the land before any work can proceed.

While the time it’s taking has many of the residents, including Brooks, frustrated, they’re now also learning they could be on the hook for additional bills, expected to be in the tens of thousands of dollars, that would be associated with archaeological monitors required to be on-site when construction is allowed to begin.

Related video: Majority of Lytton, B.C. burned by a fast-moving wildfire

Given all the barriers, Brooks admits, she worries every day that she won’t be able to move back to Lytton.

“Every day — every day — I just want to go home. I’m in an apartment in Lillooet. My life was in Lytton. My elderly parents lived two doors from me and they’re in Ashcroft Indian Band seniors’ residence. And I’m their primary caregiver, so I’m an hour away from them now,” she explained.

“Everything, you miss.”

The province says it has streamlined archaeological permits for the village and is supporting the recovery efforts.

“The Province is committed to supporting the Village as they bring the site to a point where it is safe, clean and ready for rebuild with heritage resources protected,” the Ministry of Forests said in a statement.

“Archaeological work confirmed the rich Indigenous heritage underlying the Village site. Archaeological sites are protected under provisions of the Heritage Conservation Act; permits are required to impact sites or conduct archaeological assessments.”

The ministry notes there has been more than $58 million invested, with nearly $41 million transferred to the Village of Lytton, to help pay for things like re-establishing essential infrastructure and services, debris removal, and “required archaeology work for uninsured and underinsured properties.”

It adds the removal of debris and site remediation for relevant properties “are substantially complete,” and “backfilling is underway.”

A rally is set to be held in the village on Wednesday at noon. A message from locals shared by Mayor Denise O’Connor on X, formerly known as Twitter, says while they are concerned about archaeology, “some residents feel their ancestors would want them to be home by now.”

“We don’t understand our MDLs or why they are so confidential. We feel like Lytton has become an archaeology project, not a rebuild project,” the message reads.

“It’s been over two years since the Lytton fire, that’s over 830 days! We want to go home.”

Brooks says she hopes the rally will lead to more support for locals, and get the process moving.

“The longer we delay, especially with all the horrible fire tragedies this summer, are there going to be any builders available when we’re finally cleared to build because it’s been two and a half years now? They’re going to be busy building everywhere else,” she said.

The fire that demolished Lytton came as the community had been grappling with record-breaking heat. The village recorded the highest temperatures ever in Canada on three consecutive days, the highest being 49.6 degrees.

At the time of the fire, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said the majority of homes and infrastructure in the village were destroyed.

“This has been a very difficult day, and the days ahead are going to continue to challenge us,” Farnworth said. “This fire moved aggressively and continues to do so, burning through the extreme conditions that have resulted from the record heat in the area.”

A side by side shows the community of Lytton before a devastating wildfire in 2021 on the top, and the devastation left after on the bottom
The above image shows part of the Village of Lytton that was destroyed by a fast-moving wildfire in 2021. The below is what the area looked like before. (Submitted/Google)

The wildfire forced hundreds of people to leave in just a matter of minutes, with then-Premier John Horgan saying, “There was little or no time to warn the community.”

“In fact, it was the mayor himself that got the first whiff of challenge and within minutes … the city was engulfed,” Horgan added, commending the quick actions of then-Mayor Jan Polderman and everyone else involved.

-With files from Cole Schisler and Monika Gul

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