Residents only had 15 minutes to leave their community

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The BC Coroners Service has confirmed two people died as a result of a rapid-spreading wildfire that destroyed most of the village of Lytton earlier this week.

In a written statement, the service said the investigation is still ongoing but preliminary findings are consistent with the description reported by a family member. Jeff Chapman told CBC News earlier this week that he saw a power line fall onto a trench where his parents were sheltering after flames engulfed their home. After the fire passed, he said he saw their bodies.

The BC Coroners Service said it hasn’t received any other reports of deaths related to the fire. But officials have said that some people remain unaccounted for, in large part due to the hasty evacuation of the village on Wednesday night.

Chris Manseau, media relations officer with the provincial RCMP, confirmed that investigators were able to enter the village on Saturday.

According to the provincial information officer with the BC Wildfire Service, investigators including the RCMP spent Saturday morning assessing if the village was safe to enter beforehand.

“A lot of the infrastructure in that town was also affected by the fire, which can cause difficulties accessing the area,” said Jean Strong.

At a media briefing on Friday, Pader Brach with Emergency Management B.C. said toxic smoke from the structure fires was the main impediment that had been keeping officials and investigators out.

More than 1,000 fled

More than 1,000 people fled Lytton and the surrounding area Wednesday, and RCMP are working to locate those unaccounted for.

The province said Thursday the loss includes “most homes” and structures in the village, as well as the local ambulance station and RCMP detachment. The local member of parliament said 90 per cent of the village is gone.

Disaster Financial Assistance is available for areas impacted by wildfires. Town officials and Indigenous communities can request money to cover the cost of damaged public infrastructure, such as bridges and roads, not covered by insurance.

Lytton resident Jade Baxter says the community is heartbroken and scared.

Since the fire devastated the village, Baxter says she has been at the Skuppah Indian Band office nearby, keeping it open for people who need food and a place to stay.

“Here we can only do what we can do: take names of the people who stop in,” Baxter told CBC.

Austin Doyle and his daughter said they were in Lytton to list their property for sale when they saw the plume of smoke from afar.

“We just kind of jumped into action and set the sprinklers,” Doyle said. “We started soaking everything down.”

Doyle said he wanted to help protect the building and the valuables inside left by his tenant, who was out of town.

“If it was just our house, we probably would have let it burn,” he said. “But it wasn’t our stuff in there, it was our other tenant … and he would have lost all the pictures and stuff.”

Doyle said because he rents the property to other people, he made sure to trim the grass and remove any possible fuels around the house this past spring.

With a clear exit plan, Doyle said he and his daughter never feared for their lives, but there’s still a lot of uncertainty about what’s left of their house now that they have left the community.

“We would really like to know how it is and that it’s secure and not being … robbed.”

Anyone placed under an evacuation order must leave the area immediately. 

Evacuation centres have been set up in the following locations to assist anyone evacuating from a community under threat from a wildfire:

  • Castlegar: Castlegar Community Complex, 2101 6th Ave.
  • Chilliwack: Chilliwack Senior Secondary, 46363 Yale Rd.
  • Kelowna: Salvation Army, 1480 Sutherland Ave.
  • Merritt: Merritt Civic Centre, 1950 Mamette Ave.

Evacuees are encouraged to register with Emergency Support Services online, whether or not they access services at an evacuation centre.

With files from The Canadian Press, CBC News