Harjit Sajjan toured the ruins of Lytton, B.C., on Tuesday, witnessing the full impact of what a wildfire did to the community when it raced through the village in June last year.
Just before the tour, the minister of international development announced $77 million in funding from the federal government to help Lytton rebuild a fire-resistant and energy-efficient community.
Owen Collings, a former resident and site support worker in Lytton, led the minister through the village, pointing to scorched remains of businesses and properties alongside blackened trees, describing the buildings that once stood there.
“I’ve been to a lot of places internationally but when you see it in your home country, it really hits you,” Sajjan told Collings, referencing his time as federal defence minister.
Sajjan, the member of Parliament for Vancouver South, said said the disaster showed that fire spreads from one building to another, and making buildings fire-resistant would benefit the whole community.
Lytton could be a model of climate change recovery for the rest of Canada, said Sajjan, who made the announcement at a gas station on the highway outside of Lytton that escaped the wildfire.
“With extreme weather fuelled by climate change becoming more common, we need to work together as we are doing here in Lytton to show that we can rebuild in a better way. In a more resilient, green and sustainable way.”
Lytton’s Mayor, Jan Polderman, said in a statement that the village council has already introduced a new bylaw to support a vision of building to net-zero, which emits no greenhouse gases.
The goal is for residents to have access to their homes to start rebuilding by the end of September, Polderman said at the news conference.
However, he said it could take years to fully rebuild the village, citing other fire-ravaged communities such as Slave Lake and Fort McMurray in Alberta.
“Generally speaking, you’re looking at a four- to eight-year timeline to have a community rebuilt,” he said.
Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon MP Brad Vissaid the ongoing effort to rebuild Lytton is a rare instance of crossing party lines to band together for a greater good.
“I have fought hard and advocated relentlessly for the village of Lytton recovery, which has led us in part to here today,” Vis said in a June 14 statement.
Of the $77 million, $64 million will fund fire-resilient building costs. $6 million will go toward the new Lytton Homeowner Resilient Rebuild program to help rebuild homes destroyed by the fire. $7.2 million will support local businesses through the Lytton Business Restart program.
“In the coming days, I look forward to more details on how these funds will be administered,” Vis stated. “It is my hope that today’s announcement of funding will be quickly delivered and make a real difference in the lives of Lytton residents as they finally begin the rebuilding process.”
Vis noted that the year of displacement and uncertainty so many Lytton residents faced no doubt has taken a toll on them. He added the funding is “a giant leap forward” in the direction of healing and recovery.
The fire started the day after Lytton set a Canadian heat record of 45.6 C. Two people caught in the fast moving inferno died.
The federal government announced last week it was advancing a $207-million payment to B.C. as it finalizes applications for the federal disaster assistance fund for communities affected by last year’s wildfire season.
Vis said the federal government has stepped up, but he is calling on the provincial government to do more.
B.C. Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth indicated the rebuilding of Lytton would likely begin in September, 15 months after a wildfire destroyed 90 per cent of the community.
Before homes can be rebuilt, Farnworth indicated environmental issues must be assessed, highways must be prepared and debris must be cleared, to say nothing of the utility infrastructure that needs work.
The federal government has committed more than $5 million toward disaster cleanup funding in the province as B.C. continues to finalize aid requests from last fall’s atmospheric rivers that flooded portions of the Fraser Valley and the Interior in November.
Newly elected council member Melissa Michell attended the funding announcement and said she’s pleased.
“It’s a little late but it’s definitely needed,” she said in an interview. “Better late than never.”