Over the past week, western Canada has seen an unprecedented heatwave due to a weather phenomenon called a "heat dome," likely linked to global warming. The town of Lytton in the Canadian province of British Columbia recorded the country’s highest-ever temperature of 49.6°C on Tuesday, June 29. The town was evacuated as wildfires threatened to engulf the town.
“Our poor little town of Lytton is gone.” It was with these words that Edith Loring Kubango, a resident of Lytton, began her account of the town’s evacuation, in a text published on Facebook on June 30. "We are all in shock! Our community members have lost everything,” she wrote.
Lytton is a small village of 250 residents that sits where the Fraser River and the Thompson River meet. Around 90% of it was destroyed by wildfires. Loring Kubango posted several photos of the village covered in smoke and flames.
The indigenous cultural organisation 2 Rivers Remix Society published two videos, almost apocalyptic in nature, showing the locations around Lytton where wildfires had started. More than 1,700 people live in rural areas around the village or in six reserves belonging to the Nlaka’pamux indigenous community.
Other residents shared videos of houses going up in flames and the plumes of smoke that settled over the town as they started to evacuate.
In a Facebook Live, Lytton resident Nanette Phillips-Smith, recounted the events:
I left Lytton. Lytton does not have cell service so I don’t know what’s going on right now. […] I’m going to go to Kamloops and see if there’s a way I can get a hold of my dad and my kids home on the Westside by themselves. I don’t know what else to do.
Organising solidarity efforts
The mayor of Lytton, Jan Polderman, said that every resident had received an evacuation order and had been told to go to the town of Boston Bar where they would be taken care of.
"It's dire. The whole town is on fire," Polderman told Canadian media CBC News. "It took, like, a whole 15 minutes from the first sign of smoke to, all of a sudden, there being fire everywhere."
Other neighbouring towns such as Merritt opened welcome centres for those fleeing Lytton. Meanwhile, residents of Lytton and other towns have been using Facebook to find their loved ones, send messages of solidarity, and offer shelter and food to those escaping.
The heatwave has affected the whole western region around the Canadian-American border. The soaring temperatures have been caused by a high-pressure "heat dome" that traps in hot air. Such high temperatures can be deadly for people who are vulnerable, such as the elderly. Canadian authorities recorded 486 deaths between June 25 and 30 across the province of British Columbia, compared to an average of 165 – an increase of 195% on typical numbers in the same period. While one extreme weather event cannot be directly linked to climate change, a human-driven increase in global temperatures helps to increase the intensity of heatwaves.