Lytton, B.C., rebuild continues three years after wildfire destroyed most of town

After a wildfire destroyed the village of Lytton in British Columbia, the small Fraser Canyon community is still trying to recover.

A CPKC firefighting train sits on the tracks above the village of Lytton, B.C., on Tuesday, June 25, 2024. Mayor Denise O’Connor shared an update on the rebuilding progress Tuesday, ahead of the third anniversary of the fire that destroyed 90 per cent of the community. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Three years after a wildfire destroyed much of the British Columbia village of Lytton, the tiny Fraser Canyon community is still struggling to get back on its feet.

Mayor Denise O’Connor told a news conference June 25 ahead of the anniversary that there’s good news, with the first building permit being issued for a grocery store, but bad news too, with some residents deciding not to return to rebuild their lives.

She said the community had about 200 residents before the wildfire destroyed 90 per cent of the structures in the downtown core and it is now home to far fewer people. Also lost were Lytton’s corporate records, bylaws and policies.

“We lost everything,” said O’Connor, including the river-view home where she lived with her family for more than 30 years. “But we are a much better place than we were last year, but we still have a long way to go.”

The wildfire that killed two people on June 30, 2021, occurred as much of the province baked under a heat dome that had culminated a day earlier when Lytton experienced Canada’s hottest recorded temperature of 49.6 C.

The B.C. Coroners Service says there were 619 heat-related deaths during the heat-dome period from June 25 to July 1.

O’Connor said she and her council were elected to rebuild the village, but they had been “challenged with the bureaucracy” that made the process take longer than anticipated.

“I had no idea coming into this role as mayor it would be quite like it is,” she said.

O’Connor said construction costs had skyrocketed since the wildfire and many people who lost homes and businesses have had to apply for insurance claims extensions twice, while federal funding under net zero and fire-resilient building initiatives continue to be inaccessible to many owners.

The costs for property owners to meet requirements under the Heritage Conservation Act, to protect Indigenous historical and archeological resources, were “prohibitive,” she said.

But despite the barriers facing Lytton, O’Connor cited rebuilding progress over the past year. That has included 13 residential and two commercial building permits being issued, the opening of a temporary village office, the restoration of municipal water and sewer infrastructure, and the lifting of a local state of emergency to allow residents to access their properties.

The potential rebuilding of the village grocery store and the sounds of home construction had people sensing that a recovery was underway, O’Connor said.

“It’s getting pretty tiring driving to Ashcroft, Hope or Lillooet for groceries,” she said.

The third anniversary of the wildfire is a solemn reminder of those who lost their lives and the many homes, businesses, municipal buildings and livelihoods destroyed, said O’Connor.

She said residents would gather for a barbecue on Sunday’s anniversary to recognize firefighters and others who supported the community, during and after the wildfire.

— By Dirk Meissner in Victoria

You might also like