“It’s a heartbreaking scene,” said Paul Hurst, View Royal’s chief fire officer, as he drove out of Lytton in search of food and gasoline. “I can’t describe it at all.”
He is one of several West Bank firefighters on site inside. He is cautious as he speaks, knowing that many residents are still missing and those who are safe are desperately looking for loved ones.
“It’s amazing. It’s so sad to see what happened to your city.”
READ MORE: From Smoke to Devastation – 23 Minutes in Lytton
Mayor Jan Polderman reported it took just 23 minutes for a fire on the south side of Lytton to turn into a billowing fire that targeted Main Street, tore through town, and residents fled in all directions. Vital infrastructure such as the hospital, RCMP department and grocery store were all destroyed.
RCMP is looking for missing residents, with the possibility some didn’t make it alive. Due to the aggressive nature of the fire, Mounties have not yet been able to enter the area to conduct a formal search.
“It’s hot, dry, windy and unstable,” said Hurst about the conditions on site. “The fire is very active day and night.”
He is temporarily stepping down from his role as Fire Chief at View Royal and is part of the command team formed by the Office of the Fire Commissioner. Resources from across the province are pooled and the team uses them to create task forces and strike teams to protect structures from forest fires.
They work with the BC Wildfire Service, which is tasked with protecting land and vegetation.
“The men and women of BC Wildfire are so skilled and the hardest working people I have ever met … I think they are some of the best in the country, if not North America,” Hurst said while the crews all around the clock work in Lytton and other parts of the province. “We only hope for the best result for the residents.”
ALSO READ: 90% of Lytton destroyed in wildfire, injuries reported
But it’s too early in the season. Typically, said Hurst, the command team isn’t deployed until mid or late July. Last year the team only got one call and that was in August.
With a number of major fires actively burning this year and hundreds seen earlier this year, he worries 2021 will be worse than 2017 and 2018. “It’s the time, it started just so early – we have two left Months.
But firefighters across the province answered the call.
Hurst isn’t the only local firefighter on site. Metchosin and Sooke send a team of five on the first ferry on Thursday morning. They drove straight to Lytton and Fraser Canyon.
Local departments routinely move inside members as needed during the forest fire season. This does not affect local services and mutual aid arrangements continue to protect local communities in the event that wildfire breaks out.
When asked if the West Shore could face a situation similar to Lytton, given the recent heat wave and tinder-dry conditions, Hurst said there was always a risk of wildfire. But the island has very different fuel conditions.
“They don’t take off as fast and as intensely as they do inside and other parts of BC,” said Hurst. “The nice thing about the West Shore is that we have so many resources for it so quickly.”
ALSO READ: Here’s How You Can Help the victims of the devastating Lytton Wildfire
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BC Forest Fires 2021 Forest Fire West Shore