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B.C. urged to help rebuild Lytton to prevent great destruction from future fires

A major part of rebuilding involved the widespread adoption of the FireSmart program, he said of the area where temperatures do not reach the heights seen in Lytton, the driest place in Canada.

July 12, 2021  The Canadian Press

The wildfire-ravaged village of Lytton, B.C., could be rebuilt to set a new North American standard in resilience to better protect people and property from similar disasters fuelled by climate change, a forestry researcher says.

Lori Daniels, a professor in the faculty of forestry at the University of British Columbia, said First Nations, the municipality and the provincial and federal governments need to work together with experts to redesign the community, using building materials like metal for roofs and fire-resistant shingles instead of wood so future wildfires won’t be as devastating.

“Lytton is surrounded by grasslands, shrub lands and some forest, which are highly flammable, very fire-prone environments,” Daniels said of the Fraser Canyon community known for its high temperatures.

Lytton and the surrounding area set a Canadian temperature record of 49.6 C on June 29, the day before the out-of-control fire chased out residents, destroyed much of the village and killed two people.

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Rebuilding plans have not yet been announced, as the focus has been on allowing residents to return to survey the damage ahead of a massive cleanup effort.

The Transportation Safety Board said it was launching an investigation into the possibility that a freight train may have started the fire, based on information it received from the RCMP and the BC Wildfire Service.

Mike Allen, a councillor in the Alberta municipality of Wood Buffalo, which includes the community of Fort McMurray, said lessons learned about rebuilding following a disastrous wildfire there in 2016 will be shared with the community of Lytton, and outreach has already begun in order to provide support.

A major part of rebuilding involved the widespread adoption of the FireSmart program, he said of the area where temperatures do not reach the heights seen in Lytton, the driest place in Canada.

“That is seemingly, I think, very important for future forest fires in the region,” he said of FireSmart, principles of which have been used in B.C. “We’re centred in the boreal forest and we’re subject to many forest fires every year. We’d never had one that came this close to town,” he said, referring to the period before the fire swept through Fort McMurray.

Chief Matt Pasco, of the Nlaka’pamux Nation Tribal Council, of which the Lytton First Nation is a member, has criticized the province for initiating contact 12 hours after evacuations began, but only regarding processes for cattle, not people.

He echoed Daniels’ sentiments on a lack of recognition for Indigenous jurisdiction over stewardship through traditional knowledge to manage the buildup of combustible materials.

Two years ago, the province published an “action plan” in response to an independent report that called, in part, for more collaboration with First Nations following the 2017 wildfires that scorched 1.22 million hectares. That devastation was surpassed in 2018, when 1.35 million hectares were burned.

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth acknowledged in a statement this week that the province’s early communication with First Nations “didn’t live up to expectations,” adding steps have been taken to address those shortcomings.