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'Sense of future' for Lytton if homes rebuilt by this time next year: B.C. minister

LYTTON, B.C. — When a wildfire swept through Lytton, B.C., during a record-setting heat wave, Tricia Thorpe and her husband lost their house, barn, a woodworking shop and dozens of animals on their farm.
A property destroyed by the Lytton Creek wildfire is shown in Lytton, B.C., on Sunday, August 15, 2021. British Columbia's public safety minister says he expects many houses and the municipal infrastructure of wildfire-ravaged Lytton to be rebuilt by this time next year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

LYTTON, B.C. — When a wildfire swept through Lytton, B.C., during a record-setting heat wave, Tricia Thorpe and her husband lost their house, barn, a woodworking shop and dozens of animals on their farm.

She and her husband, Don Glasgow, have rebuilt thanks to help from volunteers, but the vast majority of people aren't in that situation on the first anniversary since the village was nearly wiped out. 

Thorpe said rebuilding is taking too long and people whose homes burned down are having a hard time looking forward to some semblance of a normal life.

"In my neighbourhood, there was a rental house. They're homeless, the people that lived there," said Thorpe, who lives on the outskirts of the community in the province's Interior.

Nobody in the village has rebuilt and some people are living in temporary modules or have left the area, Thorpe said, adding she and Glasgow feared any government assistance would take too long, or not come at all, when they decided to rebuild their home.

"We waited for all those agencies and government assistance to help us because we couldn't get our animals out. So we went rogue and got our animals out five days after the fire. We built our house without permits because they were not issuing permits."

The house was built to code, but Thorpe said she was concerned about getting financial help because the couple did not have insurance.

"I would say we did exactly what a reasonable person would do under the circumstances," she said, adding the couple will deal with any repercussions if they need to.

"I have a roof over my head."

B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said he expects many houses and the municipal infrastructure destroyed in Lytton will be rebuilt by this time next year.

He said that would give displaced residents returning home a sense of their future.

Debris removal is underway, possibly allowing rebuilding to start in September so that the water and sewer system can be put in place.

Farnworth said he understands the frustration of many residents who have been out of their homes for a year while the province works with First Nations to recognize the challenges of what is an important archeological site.

The village is believed by experts to have been occupied by Indigenous Peoples about 10,000 years ago. He said that significance has made rebuilding complex because every resident will need to get a permit costing about $10,000.

Farnworth said the province has streamlined that process by holding the permit for the entire site and picking up the cost. He said that's one less thing for residents to worry about, whether they had insurance or not.

"What I want people to know is we are committed to rebuilding. We are working very hard with the council, with the First Nations, to rebuild it," he said.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada recently said the wildfire is estimated to have caused more than $100 million in insured damage.

The province recently committed $21 million for rebuilding efforts as well as for hiring municipal staff and fire protection services to allow construction to begin.

In a joint statement marking the anniversary Thursday, Premier John Horgan and Farnworth highlighted the collaboration between all levels of government working to rebuild the community.

"On this sombre anniversary, we reaffirm our commitment to all those affected by last year's wildfire that we will not stop working until everyone can see the pathway to returning home," the statement said.

Federal Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair said in a separate statement that Ottawa is also dedicated to supporting Lytton's recovery. 

"The loss of life, homes, infrastructure and the ongoing disruption to people's lives is heartbreaking," he said.

Earlier this month, the federal government announced $77 million to help rebuild a fire-resistant and energy-efficient community. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 30, 2022. 

The Canadian Press