Canada hunts for survivors of fire that destroyed small town

A motorist watches from a pullout on the Trans-Canada Highway as a wildfire burns on the side of a mountain in Lytton, B.C., Thursday, July 1, 2021. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — Officials on Friday hunted for any missing residents of a British Columbia town destroyed by wildfire as the Canadian province’s chief coroner said reports suggest two people have died as a result of blaze.

Lisa Lapointe told a news conference Friday that a team is standing by to conduct an investigation in order to confirm the deaths, but it’s not yet safe to enter the area.

The roughly 1,000 residents of Lytton had to abandon their homes with just a few minutes notice Wednesday evening after suffering the previous day under a record high of 121.2 Fahrenheit (49.6 Celsius).

Officials said it was unclear whether anyone remained in the village 95 miles (150 kilometers) northeast of Vancouver due to a lack of cell service and because it wasn’t safe to enter most of the area.

“We do know there are some people who are unaccounted for,” said Mike Farnworth, the province’s public safety minister, though he said the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Red Cross were working to locate people.

Those who escaped the fire scattered to evacuation centers across the province.

Tony Sam said it was “chaotic” driving through thick smoke to Meritt, B.C., about 36 miles (58 kilometers) southeast of Lytton.

“You could barely see driving through the smoke,” he told Global TV.

Both his house and his mother’s home were destroyed.

“It’s gone,” he said. “Nothing left of it.”

Noeleen McQuary-Budde didn’t even have time to grab her shoes before piling into a truck with her husband an 11 other people to escape the flames.

“The whole village of Lytton went up in I would say 10 minutes,” she said. “We were watching it burn and just thanking Creator that we got out.”

In Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged that the federal government will “help rebuild and help people come through this.”

Trudeau said he had spoken with British Columbia Premier John Horgan and John Haugen, acting chief of the of Lytton First Nation and planned to convene an emergency response group.

Another wildfire threat at Kamloops, 220 miles (355 kilometers) northeast of Vancouver, forced an evacuation of about 200 people Thursday night, but officials said they could return Friday.

Kamloops also recorded a record his temperature this week of 117 Fahrenheit, (47.3 Celsius) but it had cooled down to around 90 (32) on Friday.

“I can’t imagine what the firefighters are going through working in these conditions,” said Noelle Kekula, a fire information officer for the British Columbia Wildfire Service. “We are up for a real battle.”

The Wildfire Service said at least 106 fires were burning across the province, including dozens that started within just the past two days.

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