A small B.C. village that endured the hottest temperatures ever recorded in Canada for days on end this week was engulfed in flames Wednesday night and residents were forced to flee, many without their belongings.
Mayor Jan Polderman says he told everyone to leave Lytton, as a fire rapidly spread into the community of about 250 people. He signed the official evacuation order at 6 p.m. PT.
“It’s dire. The whole town is on fire,” Polderman told CBC News. “It took, like, a whole 15 minutes from the first sign of smoke to, all of a sudden, there being fire everywhere.”
He said he told residents to head for the nearby community of Boston Bar, and was on his way there himself. A reception centre has also been set up in Merritt to the east, and other residents have taken shelter in Lillooet to the north.
“At the First Nation band office, the fire was a wall about three, four feet high coming up to the fence line. I drove through town and it was just smoke, flames, the wires were down,” Polderman said.
Video captured by residents rushing out of town show numerous structures on fire in every direction.
Earlier this week, Lytton, about 260 kilometres northeast of Vancouver, recorded the highest temperature ever seen in Canada on three consecutive days, topping out at 49.6 C on Tuesday as an unprecedented heat wave scorched Western Canada.
Erica Berg, a provincial fire information officer, said the evacuation order was issued about an hour after the blaze began but she did not know the size or the cause of it. She said the B.C. Wildfire Service is diverting crews and equipment from other areas to respond to the fire.
Winds of up to 71 kilometres an hour were pushing the fire north into the community as of 7 p.m. PT, according to CBC meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe. She said the hot, dry and windy conditions in the area could mean the fire is moving at 10 or even 20 kilometres an hour.
Michelle Nordstrom with the Thompson-Nicola Regional District said local officials are scrambling to coordinate the evacuation as it happened so suddenly and Lytton residents were fleeing the town in any direction they could.
Another spokesperson for the regional district said about 1,000 people in First Nations communities may also be ordered to evacuate, but it was hard to get in contact with their local governments.
Firefighters were already dealing with at least two other wildfires in the area when the latest fire moved in on Lytton. The George Road wildfire, burning south of Lytton, was last estimated to be 350 hectares at 2:26 p.m. PT, and the nearby Conte Creek fire was estimated at 1.5 hectares.
Edith Loring-Kuhanga, an administrator at Stein Valley Nlakapamux School in Lytton, fled to Lillooet in a caravan with about 100 other local residents.
“It’s just unbelievable. You can’t even comprehend it,” she told CBC Radio. “Our entire town is gone.”
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