The Village of Lytton, British Columbia, is well known for its very warm summer weather and is often the hottest spot in Canada. It’s in a remote part of the province; Vancouver is a three-hour drive and Kamloops is a two-hour drive away. Approximately 250 residents live in the village, located in the southern interior of BC and near the junction of the Fraser and Thompson rivers, with many First Nations communities in the surrounding area. According to locals, the Lytton area has been inhabited by First Nations peoples for over 10,000 years.
Fires in the Lytton area are not new. Several fires devastated the community in the 1930s and 1940s. Each time, the community was rebuilt.
On June 30, 2021, the day after Lytton set a Canadian record-breaking temperature of 49.6 degrees Celsius, a wildfire swept through the community, destroying most structures in the village. About 90% of it burned down and, tragically, two people died.
Shortly after the 2021 wildfire, elected officials stated they wanted to rebuild a net-zero standard, fire-resilient community like no other in Canada. Two years have passed since the devastating fire, and not a single building has been rebuilt.
Lytton is unique in many aspects, creating a number of challenges for residents and stakeholders involved in the rebuild. The first of these is its remote location. After the village burned, access to most essential services that residents had relied on daily – the local gas station, grocery store, hotel and bank – suddenly involved a very long drive.
Second, because First Nations peoples have been living on the land for thousands of years, artifacts are buried beneath the village. British Columbia has a Heritage Conservation Act that prescribes the process for situations like this. The village had to obtain a permit to dig the ground, and a substantial process had to be developed to retrieve, document and catalog hundreds of artifacts that have been found.
Finally, the community had no power, water, sewer service, or even public washrooms for workers to use. There were no facilities where elected officials could meet to discuss village business. When I was in Lytton almost a year after the fire, I still had to wear personal protective equipment including a hard hat, steel-toed footwear, a mask and a reflective vest due to potential hazards and ongoing debris removal work in the area.
IBC has been working with municipal and provincial government elected officials, various consultants and stakeholders since the wildfire happened, and although many of them have come and gone over the last two years, there is still hope.
Property and casualty insurers have been helping residents since they were evacuated on June 30, 2021, and continue to help their policyholders with additional living expenses, replacing contents and working on home rebuild plans with those who want to rebuild.
Rebuilding will take time. We are not rebuilding one home, but an entire community. Many residents did not have insurance. Based on the total number of properties destroyed and number of claims made, it was determined that over half of the residents in Lytton were uninsured. This is another obstacle the community is facing. How many people will rebuild their homes? Will businesses want to return? Will Lytton thrive once again as a quaint little historical community? Whatever decisions take place in this community, the insurance industry will be standing with residents every step of the way.
Two years later, power has been restored. Restoration of water and sewer services is being finalized. A replacement fire truck has been purchased. The State of Local Emergency has been lifted. The municipality has developed bylaws for rebuilding. Roads and affected areas are now clear of debris. With lessons learned informing the way forward and hopes that shovels will soon be in the ground, we are eager to see what this community will look like in the years ahead.