Coroner says two feared dead in wildfire that ravaged Lytton, B.C.

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LYTTON, B.C. — British Columbia's chief coroner says preliminary reports suggest two people died as a result of a wildfire that ravaged the village of Lytton, B.C.

Lisa Lapointe told a news conference today that the reports have yet to be officially confirmed.

RCMP Staff Sgt. Janelle Shoihet says numerous hazards are still preventing the Mounties from accessing the Lytton area to search for an unknown number of people who remain unaccounted for.

Earlier, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said a meeting was planned with federal ministers to discuss the government's response.

Trudeau told a news conference the response meeting will also look at what is expected to be a very hot, dry summer with many wildfires.

He says he's spoken with B.C. Premier John Horgan and Lytton First Nation Deputy Chief John Haugen, and will also speak with Lytton Mayor Jan Polderman.

Trudeau says the federal government stands with the people of Lytton to rebuild.

On Thursday, B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said people are unaccounted for after the fire, but he couldn't say how many. It has been hard to keep tabs on where everyone ended up, given the urgent nature of Wednesday evening's evacuation, he added.

Details about conditions in the village are scant because it's not safe to enter the area, the RCMP said. Aerial photos show numerous buildings and vehicles have been destroyed.

The Mounties have said they would begin searching for missing or injured people as soon as it's safe to do so.

Telus Corp. said Friday it has deployed emergency communications equipment to support local authorities and emergency crews dealing with the wildfire. Telus is the main wireless provider for the Lytton area, and B.C. officials say a lack of cell service has made it difficult to determine if anyone remains in the village.

The company set up a mobile cell tower at about 6 p.m. Thursday to provide temporary service in the area after the fire disabled two of its towers, Telus spokeswoman Liz Sauve said.

The roughly 1,000 people who managed to escape to safety when the emergency evacuation order was issued will find very little left when they return, Farnworth said.

Troy Clifford, president of the union representing ambulance workers in B.C., said Lytton had one ambulance and a station, both of which were lost in the fire. The village has a rotating staff of 25 to 30 people, and all paramedics out of Lytton are accounted for, he added.

The Lytton Creek wildfire that burned the village was still listed as out of control on Friday afternoon and was about 64 square kilometres in size.

To the northeast, Kamloops faced a wildfire threat Thursday night, triggering an evacuation order that was later rescinded. The fire was classified as under control on Friday morning. It was ignited during weather that produced several lightning strikes.

Fire department platoon captain Troy Grant didn't have an exact number but said about 200 people in the Juniper Ridge neighbourhood were evacuated from the area as the fast-moving fire advanced toward it.

An update posted to the city's website Friday said no structures were lost and residents could return home. Crews continued targeting hot spots, it said, and residents were asked to reduce irrigation to conserve water to support their efforts.

The Merry Creek wildfire also prompted the Regional District of Central Kootenay to issue an evacuation order for 31 properties about eight kilometres south of Castlegar. As of Friday morning, that fire was listed as 15 hectares in size and burning out of control. Several other areas in Castlegar were on evacuation alert.

The wildfire service listed 137 active fires burning across the province at mid-afternoon on Friday, with 69 starting in the last two days.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 2, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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