An out-of-control wildfire 1.7 kilometres northwest of Lytton, B.C., has destroyed at least six houses, say officials, who warn that number could rise as crews continue to fight the fast-growing blaze that has been burning since Thursday.
Two-dozen families in the area have been ordered evacuated from their homes. The number of residential structures burned down "could be upward of nine," according to Lytton First Nation deputy chief John Haugen.
He said officials are trying to contact affected residents. Authorities say at least 80 evacuees have been registered.
"It's devastating," he said, "so we have to be mindful of how we approach them and confirm those losses.''
The fire is located on the west side of the Fraser River, less than two kilometres from the village that was wiped out by an aggressive wildfire after a record-breaking heat wave a year ago this month.
As of 5 p.m., the fire had almost doubled in size since Friday morning, burning more than 15 square kilometres of trees and bush — an area nearly four times the size of Vancouver's Stanley Park.
The B.C. Wildfire Service said the out-of-control fire is burning vigorously, ranked as a four and a five on a six-point scale measuring fire behaviour, meaning that it has "an organized flame front and a moderate to fast rate of spread."
A crew of 80 firefighters is on scene, including six helicopters.
B.C. Forests Minister Katrine Conroy said Friday afternoon that the wildfire, named the Nohonim Creek fire, is aggressive, noting that at one point on Thursday, the fire jumped the river, but firefighting crews were able to suppress it before it grew.
Homes and property on the west shore, part of the Lytton First Nation Reserve, were spared during that fire but stand closer to the current blaze.
Lytton First Nation member Britannia Glasgow had to flee the reserve last year due to fire but later moved back home to help rebuild the devastated community. She says it's disheartening to see the wildfire now affecting the west side of Lytton.
"The west side was a place of sanctuary for the past year … you can go over there and see some greenery that wasn't all black and brown," Glasgow told host Sarah Penton on CBC's Radio West.
Glasgow also complains about what she says is a slow response from the B.C. Wildfire Service, considering how devastating last year's wildfire was.
The Thompson-Nicola Regional District issued an evacuation order Thursday for 24 addresses in the area. An evacuation alert for 31 additional properties north of the fire is also in place, advising residents they need to be ready to leave at a moment's notice.
The Lytton First Nation also has evacuation orders in place for several reserves:
Nohomeen Indian Reserve 23;
Papyum Indian Reserves 27 and 27A;
Lytton Indian Reserve 27B;
Papyum Graveyard 27C;
and Stryen Indian Reserve 9, west of Stein River.
The orders affect nearly 150 people, but some have stayed behind.
"Most are aware that fire is in our midst, and they are cognizant that fire poses a great risk to their safety, so a lot did leave," said John Haugen, the deputy fire chief with the Lytton First Nation.
"There are a lot that did stay and fight the fires closer to their homes. They were able to save some of the structures."
Colman said firefighting efforts have been challenging because road access to the area is limited. West shore residents have been crossing the Fraser River by foot, over a CN rail bridge, for weeks.
Flooding also complicated Thursday's evacuation, with the regional district directing evacuees to take Spencer Road North to Lillooet for emergency support.
"The route south to Boston Bar on the west side of the Fraser River has been compromised due to the spring freshet, and the Lytton Ferry remains out of service due to high water,'' a notice read.
The fire started around 12:45 p.m. on Thursday. Officials said flames spread quickly, fanned by gusting winds in the area.
The B.C. Wildfire Service said the cause is unknown.
Power for the municipality of Lytton has been out since Thursday afternoon. As of midday Friday, B.C. Hydro said a little more than 70 people were still cut off.
Pader Brach, executive director of regional operations at Emergency Management B.C., said some buildings may have already been destroyed.
"We have received reports that approximately three structures may have been lost, but this has yet to be confirmed,'' he said Thursday.
Premier John Horgan said his thoughts are with people in the area.
"It's unimaginable to face a second wildfire a year after the devastation they faced,'' he wrote on Twitter. "Thank you to the crews working to keep people safe.''
Brach said emergency support, including food, lodging and clothing, will be provided to people under an evacuation order for up to 72 hours.