TORONTO — Something strange was happening to the acacia trees in Lytton, British Columbia.
By June 30, the small town in Western Canada had experienced three days of extreme heat, each of which broke national temperature records, with the highest temperature reaching 121 degrees. Lorna Fandrich was at the Lytton Chinese History Museum that morning when she noticed the green leaves falling from the trees surrounding the building, she explained. The leaves were apparently unable to withstand the heat.
Lytton was engulfed in flames a few hours later. The town, which had a population of less than 300 people and was nestled between mountain ranges and subject to hot summers, was completely consumed by flames, which destroyed 90 percent of it and killed two people while injuring several others, according to the authorities.
Investigators are looking into whether local rail traffic was to blame for the blaze, which was exacerbated by the heat, which was experienced at temperatures that climate scientists say would be virtually impossible to achieve without human-caused climate change.
According to residents, the village was almost unrecognisable on Friday, when a path was finally cleared of downed power lines, bricks, and other debris to make way for five buses transporting residents to tour the town.
Massive piles of warped metal and deformed wood protruded from the ruins of demolished buildings. Black scorch marks were often visible on the brick walls that were still standing.
Matilda and Peter Brown discovered that their home had been completely demolished, leaving only the skeleton of a traditional Indigenous hut used to air dry salmon as a reminder of what had happened.
“That was our home,” Ms. Brown cried as she described her childhood home. “It served as our haven for safety. We don’t have a place to stay right now.”
This year’s extreme heat wave that swept through much of North America’s Pacific Northwest at the end of June was responsible for widespread wildfires, a dramatic increase in heat-related deaths, and environmental devastation that resulted in millions of dead or dying coastal animals.
The town of Lytton was particularly hard hit, with temperatures ranging between 116 and 121 degrees in the afternoon. After the fire, displaced residents and indigenous communities in the surrounding area were left wondering what could be salvaged from the ashes.
“Where many buildings once stood, there is now only charred earth,” the village of Lytton said in a statement issued on July 6.
Residents were unable to return to their homes for more than a week, leaving them to wonder what, if anything, of their former lives had survived the blaze in the first place.
Mr. Brown, a member of the Lytton First Nation, had misplaced one of the family’s heirloom cedar baskets, as well as some personal documents that had been hidden in a gun safe, when the safe was broken into.
Ms. Brown is a member of the Ts’kw’aylaxw First Nation, which is located near the neighbouring town of Lillooet, and was leading an addiction counselling group at the time of the fire. She was killed in the fire. She stated that she is taking time away from work to deal with this “nightmare situation.”
The actress went on to say, “I don’t want to be a wounded healer.”
In a statement from the village, it was revealed that on June 30, “someone banged on the office windows after hours” to alert town staff members of the fire. The dramatic scene unfolded when the fire was discovered. The mayor ordered a complete evacuation, while volunteer firefighters attempted to contain the raging inferno in the dry conditions that allowed it to engulf the entire town and threaten to destroy it.
A total of more than 90 crew members flew to British Columbia during the height of the heat wave in order to assist the wildfire service, which was battling flames over thousands of acres in difficult conditions for overheating equipment. The number of people who died suddenly increased dramatically as a result of the heat. When 777 reports of suspicious deaths were received by the provincial coroner’s office between June 25 and July 1, emergency responders responded to them, more than three times the number of reports received during the same period last year.
Since Canadian authorities were still grappling with the coronavirus outbreak and Canadians were only beginning to enjoy some of the pleasures of summer as restrictions began to ease, the heat wave created an additional public health concern.
In a statement released on Friday, Gordon Murray, president of the Two Rivers Farmers Market in Lytton, said he had experienced “overwhelming” feelings of grief, sorrow, anger, and frustration while riding his bus.
He described the fire as “particularly disconcerting” because of how localised it was. He and his partner have been residents of Lytton for approximately a decade, and they were able to see their chimney and white fireplace from their vantage point on the bus. They also suffered the loss of a cat in the blaze.
According to Mr. Murray, one of the strangest aspects of the film is that the town has been completely erased. As a kind of exclamation point to the fact that the town has vanished completely, there is an occasional chimney stack, literally.
On July 8, ten animal welfare workers were permitted to enter the evacuation zone in order to carry out a pet and livestock rescue operation. According to Lorie Chortyk, a spokeswoman for the British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 41 animals were saved and were currently being evaluated before being reunited with their owners, who had been separated from them.
Ms. Fandrich, the museum’s owner, decided not to participate in the tour because it would be “extremely emotional.” “I think we’ll just wait until they allow us to go down on an individual basis,” she explained.
The museum, which was modelled after a traditional temple that once stood on the site, opened in 2017 to commemorate the contributions and history of Chinese workers in British Columbia, despite the fact that she is not of Chinese descent herself. It was home to more than 1,600 artefacts, books, and archives, all of which were destroyed in the fire. In addition, the town’s history museum was destroyed by fire.
In the words of Ms. Fandrich, “we’ve lost two of the most important parts of our history.” “Well, that’s all gone now.”
The homes of her two sons, who lived in the neighbourhood, were demolished. The coffee shop owned by her daughter was also destroyed.
An international team of climate researchers recently concluded that the severity of the fires that scorched nearly 1.7 million acres in Canada, as reported by the country’s natural resources agency, occurred at temperatures that were higher than those experienced in previous heat waves, according to a recent analysis by a team of climate researchers.
As part of his research on the Salish Sea coast, Christopher Harley, a marine biologist and professor at the University of British Columbia, has been surveying the damage done by the heat wave to the shoreline, which he estimates to be in the tens of millions of dollars. In an interview with the Associated Press on Friday, he described the crunch of dead muscles beneath his feet as a sombre reminder of the devastation caused to wildlife.
In addition to the clams, barnacles, sea stars, and snails, he explained that other sea creatures were also used. “Whatever the true number is, it is going to be almost incomprehensible,” says the author.