Dozens of families forced to flee their homes as fire raced through a small B.C. village Wednesday are now working to find loved ones scattered in the evacuations, as emergency officials urgently try to account for everybody in the community.
People living in Lytton, B.C., about 260 kilometres northeast of Vancouver, were forced to leave with little notice Wednesday, racing out of town in every direction as smoke and flames swallowed the community in minutes.
According to the local member of parliament, at least 90 per cent of the village was destroyed.
Online community groups were filled with posts from people desperate for information about family, friends and pets left behind. The challenge Thursday will be trying to confirm where residents went and connect them with their families, officials said.
“We are receiving calls from people looking for family and loved ones as well, and it’s really hard because of power outages and cellphone towers being down, but we’re working on that,” Scott Hildebrand, chief administrative officer with the Thompson-Nicola Regional District.
“One of our challenges right now is that we had people leave in all different directions.”
‘The town burnt down’
Mayor Jan Polderman signed the official evacuation order at 6 p.m. PT, Wednesday. He said the village was overcome by flames before officials had the chance to co-ordinate a place for people to go, so many just started driving.
“The town burnt down,” Polderman said, his voice hoarse as he spoke from a family member’s home in Maple Ridge, B.C., on Thursday.
“I noticed some white smoke at the south end of town and within 15 to 20 minutes, the whole town was engulfed in flame.”
The community of Lillooet, north of Lytton, took in dozens of evacuees through the evening. A district representative said Thursday they had an official count of 188 people, but the number was likely higher as many evacuees had not formally registered.
Other evacuees sought refuge in the nearby community of Boston Bar. Fifty-two people went to the reception centre in Merritt to the east.
MP Brad Vis, who represents Mission—Matsqui—Fraser Canyon, said in a Facebook post that 90 per cent of the village was lost, including the centre of town. He said he heard from constituents Wednesday who lost their homes and were separated from loved ones.