Frustrations are growing over the slow recovery in wildfire-ravaged Lytton, B.C., though hope remains the town will be rebuilt into a sustainable and resilient community, despite losing its tax base land.
Last June, a massive wildfire destroyed 90% of Lytton’s infrastructure, killed two people and displaced hundreds of residents. Seven months later, the city remains a burnt-out shell, former mayor Jocella Lightfoot said, speaking to CBC Daybreak Kamloops last week. “Black and charred,” Lytton is dotted with chimneys that stand like a place destroyed by war, she said.
“The perceived lack of progress is creating tension,” writes CBC News, adding that “since the fire, the village has seen three recovery leaders, the most recent being fired as the village changed its recovery model.”
Mayor Jan Polderman declined an interview with CBC, citing residents’ criticism and saying he didn’t want to legitimize their complaints.
Polderman had been more positive weeks after the fire when he spoke to Global News about the city’s plans to rebuild into a net-zero “green” community that others, including Vancouver, could learn from.
He had said he hoped the city could rebuild by July 2023, an optimism perhaps bolstered by the fact that Lytton had secured firm commitments from the federal and provincial governments to support the work.
Polderman also said he hopes the tragic fire leads townspeople and surrounding First Nations “to come together to create a better future.”
But the recovery turned out to be a “very complex situation,” said disaster expert Ron Mattiussi, who was appointed as a city councilor by the BC government. Mattiussi, who helped the town of Grand Forks rebuild after catastrophic flooding in 2018, told CTV that since Lytton is built on a former First Nations settlement, an archaeological review and permit will be required before any work that disrupts soil, including sanitation. to eliminate toxins such as industrial chemicals or asbestos.
“I wish I could give the citizens – the people who live there – some certainty, but I can’t,” he said at the time. “It’s just that there are too many pieces in play, but our goal is to get people home as quickly as possible.”
Three months later, Mattiussi continues to plead for patience and understanding. “Unfortunately, you don’t see much going on on the ground, but there’s a lot going on in the background,” he told CBC/
“Residents will likely see progress soon as the village began accepting applications for demolition permits last week,” the national broadcaster adds.
But the expenses are increasing. Citing delays in recovery and reconstruction, the Insurance Bureau of Canada announced in January that estimated insured losses at Lytton now stand at $102 million in insured damage, an increase from an initial estimate of $78 million last August.
Last Wednesday, British Columbia announced it would provide C$8.3 million to support Lytton’s operations and recovery. About 75% of this funding will be sent immediately to help address water and wastewater system, legal and governance issues, debris removal, and environmental and archaeological remediation, reports Global News.
Asked about Lytton’s future, Lightfoot echoed Polderman’s earlier vision of a city rebuilt for the 21st century: green, resilient and thriving. This plan remains “doable”, she said, with “spring fast approaching – a good time to encourage hope and vision”.