Brick, concrete and metal – that’s all that’s left.
Chimneys stand guard above layers of white and grey ash. The buildings are gone, or just ragged, blackened walls remain. The foundations where someone once slept, worked or shopped is all that’s seen.
I am among two dozen people on a media bus slowly making its way along Main Street through what little remains of the Village of Lytton. It is July 9, and nine days after the furious maelstrom of a wildfire tore through this little community.
Located about 110 kilometres north of Hope, Lytton and the 1,000 people who evacuated the area garnered international attention twice in two days.
On June 29, the community gained the record for the hottest place ever recorded in Canada at 49.6 C. One day later, the massive blaze destroyed 90 per cent of the town. The entire village was on fire in minutes.
The smell of charred debris is apparent as we turn into the village.
A dozen or more burnt vehicles are parked side by side along the highway. There is nothing else around except for black trees. Who parks that many cars all in one spot on Highway 1?
Like countless others, I’ve only driven by the community on my way to elsewhere, with really no idea of what it used to look like.
We drive by piles of ash, downed power lines and crumbled brick. What used to be there? A home? A little shop? A school?
It’s heart-rending. Surreal. Silent.
Viewing the village through a camera lens and a tinted bus window, it feels like slow-panned footage of a movie. Beads of sweat roll down my back.
Perhaps I’m photographing in a war zone. Maybe the aftermath of a huge explosion. It doesn’t seem real.
Yet, every now and then, bits of normal life appear. Miraculously, the odd house or vehicle is unscathed amid the debris and charcoaled trees.
At one end of Main Street, a sad, pale green chair rests empty and slightly melted, but still intact. A few feet away power lines hang across the scorched, black ground. The building behind the chair is rubble.
Who used to occupy that chair? Perhaps a child dragged it outside to perch a doll. Maybe an older man used to sit there and chat with his neighbours.
Where is that person now? With family? Friends?
They’re all homeless now. Neighbours are homeless. The family down the street is homeless. The community of Lytton is homeless.
One burnt property is followed by another, and another. What existed in those locations? Days later, I found out.
One used to be a church. Over there, the Chinese History Museum. Here, a sandwich shop. And row upon row of houses reduced to ash and rubble.
That line of parked cars along Highway 1? They were in front of a store, and beside that a campground, and next to that a café and a house.
All burned down. Gone.
When I researched what used to stand in some of those spots, I learned a bit more about Lytton. I realized what the community used to be and, hopefully, what it will become again.
It will be a place for people to live. A place for folks to sit outside their house and talk with passersby. A place for families to feel safe. A place for people to call home – one day.
See before and after images of Lytton, a visual piece put together after visiting the village.
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