Fires threaten Indigenous community in Canada's B.C. province, again

By Anna Mehler Paperny

TORONTO (Reuters) – Members of Lytton First Nation are fleeing their homes again amid record-setting blazes in the province of British Columbia, having yet to rebuild since a devastating fire two years ago that had razed dozens of the Indigenous community’s buildings.

The First Nation ordered 14 people to evacuate late on Friday, and by Sunday, the out-of-control Stein Mountain fire was just 300 metres from reserve land, burning its way down a steep slope that has stymied firefighting efforts, the community’s Chief Niakia Hanna told Reuters.

In 2021, a fire had devastated much of the community of Lytton, including administrative buildings and 41 homes belonging to First Nation members, Hanna said. The community hoped to start on reconstruction this fall.

This year’s fire is about 12 miles from where the 2021 blaze had burned, he said.

“There’s some worrying and the ongoing trauma from the previous two years of fire,” Hanna said.

“When you experience something like that, the trauma is ongoing. Just the smell of smoke in the air is enough to trigger those recurring feelings and fear.”

About 800 British Columbia residents are under evacuation orders. As of early Monday, there were almost 400 wildfires burning in the province, 14 of them “wildfires of note,” a reference to their visibility or the threat they pose to public safety.

Canada is being seared by a record-setting wildfire season, with more than 100,000 square kilometres burned, and counting – quadruple the area burned during an average wildfire season.

Europe, too, has been battling scorching weather this year that has led to drought and devastating wildfires.

The B.C. fires have displaced thousands, destroyed property and sent billows of smoke across the continent, triggering air quality alerts that have affected 100 million Americans.

The blazes have released 290 million tonnes of carbon, according to the EU’s Copernicus Atmospheric Monitoring Service, twice the previous annual record set in 2014.

Hanna hopes this year’s fires will serve as a wakeup call to authorities about the resources needed to manage them.

“We’re embarked on an unprecedented fire season. I don’t think the province or Canada was prepared or had the ability to respond effectively.”

(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

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