The signs of devastation in the small B.C. village were overwhelming and apparent: rows of charred vehicles, snarled twigs that once were trees, homes and businesses reduced to piles of bricks and twisted metal.
But as residents of Lytton got further into the village centre, they recognized familiar symbols from a community now gone: a playground set, its green slide warped from the heat but its wooden steps intact; the metal frame of a trampoline, its centre burnt away. The Lytton Anglican Parish remains standing, as does the residence next door. The colours of the rainbow crosswalk in front of the village office remain untarnished.
Residents of Lytton, which was mostly destroyed by a wildfire last week that also killed two people, were permitted back into the village on Friday on a carefully guided bus tour organized by the Thompson-Nicola Regional District (TNRD). Some residents declined, saying there was nothing left to see, or that they already knew what they had lost. Others accepted – wanting to see what remained, wanting closure.
Matilda Brown’s home wasn’t supposed to be visible during the tour, but when the bus took a wrong turn, there it was right in front of her: a pile of ashen rubble covered in twisted metal.
She thought she saw the smoker still standing and Peter Brown, her husband and fellow member of the Lytton First Nation, believed he saw the couple’s large metal gun safe as they passed by their home in just a few seconds.
Ms. Brown said the tour left many on her bus stunned and silent.
“To see the grocery store, our hospital, everything just burnt …” Ms. Brown said, trailing off in her thoughts, shortly after the convoy left Lytton.
What stumped Lytton First Nation Councillor John Haugen most was how there was no rhyme or reason for why most structures were in ruins yet others were left untouched.
“There’s just so much to see and there’s all different kinds of emotions,” Coun. Haugen said after the tour. “Know that the losses are great.”
The regional district also organized a tour for media later the same day.
The Klowa Art Café, a coffee shop and community hub at the centre of town that sold handknits and Indigenous arts, is now just a pile of rubble, a few brick columns left.
The Lytton Chinese History Museum is gone. It had opened just four years ago and boasted more than 1,600 artifacts, archives and library books documenting the contributions made in B.C.’s Interior by thousands of Chinese miners, railway workers, merchants and farmers.
At the site of the former Lytton Village Office, what appears to be a charred cabinet stands in the middle of a pile of indistinguishable debris.
On May long weekends, the street out front of the office would close to traffic and transform into a spot where residents would gather to dance. Timshel Jackson, who lived in Lytton for about five years, recalls local musicians Richie and the Fendermen playing high-energy crowd favourites such as Wooly Bully and Riding in my Indian Car. She would be among the first to begin dancing, with others soon following.
It is that memory she was mourning most this week.
“I feel like for those brief moments, nothing else mattered,” Ms. Jackson said. “Not the colour of anyone’s skin. Not the history of residential school trauma that plagues so many. Not family feuds or political class designations. All that matters is embracing that moment of heart-opening, soul-satisfying connection to spirit.”
Ms. Jackson now works as an electrician and plans to return to Lytton when the time comes to help rebuild.
Residents who have home insurance are waiting on if, and what, they will be paid out under their plans amid numerous online campaigns that have already raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to help the community rebuild.
Tricia Thorpe, who lives about three kilometres outside of Lytton, did not join the tour, having already seen that her home had been levelled. On Monday, Ms. Thorpe “went rogue” and talked her way past a police barricade to retrieve her animals after growing frustrated that the regional district was not being more helpful.
“I basically told them I wasn’t leaving until I got my animals out. I put the police in a really difficult spot – I tugged at their heartstrings – and they were amazing. We got in and got our animals out.”
Ms. Thorpe and a volunteer from a livestock rescue group collected five sheep, four alpacas, three adult dogs, nine puppies and a cat, loading them into a trailer and Ms. Thorpe’s new car (“It will never look the same,” she said). Lost in the fire were a dog, three sheep, several goats, chickens, peacocks, guinea fowl and a few cats.
She said she was frustrated by the fact that railway crews and other commercial operations could enter Lytton days before residents and animal-rescue volunteers, calling Friday’s tour opportunity too little, too late.
“Everybody already knows, basically, whether their place is standing anymore or not,” she said. “There are pictures showing the devastation. And so now the TNRD is going to bring them in? But they’ve let the railway crews in beforehand? I mean, come on. They need to do more for the people.”
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