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‘A heartbreaking scene’: View Royal fire chief on the ground in Lytton

Wildfire season gearing up to be one of the worst yet, Paul Hurst says
Local firefighters Scott Rear, Brandon Knowles, Nik Wells, Dawson Tindale and Brent Henning form the five-person team from Metchosin and Sooke that headed to Lytton on the first ferry July 1. (Metchosin Fire Department/Facebook)

“It’s a heartbreaking scene,” said View Royal Fire Chief Paul Hurst as he drove out of Lytton in search of food and gasoline. “I can’t even describe it.”

One of several West Shore firefighters on the ground in the Interior, he’s careful as he speaks, knowing many residents are still unaccounted for and the ones that are safe are desperately searching for loved ones.

“It’s unbelievable. It’s so sad to see what’s happened to their town.”

READ MORE: From smoke to devastation – 23 minutes in Lytton

Mayor Jan Polderman reported it took just 23 minutes for a fire on the south side of Lytton to turn into a billowing blaze that targeted Main Street, tearing through the town and sending residents fleeing in all directions. Vital infrastructure including the hospital, RCMP detachment and grocery store have all been destroyed.

RCMP are searching for residents who remain missing, with the possibility some did not make it out alive. Due to the aggressive behaviour of the fire, Mounties have not yet been able to enter the area to conduct a formal search.

“It’s hot, dry, windy and volatile,” Hurst said of the conditions on the ground. “The fire is very active all day and night.”

Temporarily stepping away from his role as View Royal fire chief, he is part of the command team formed by the Office of the Fire Commissioner. Resources from across the province are pooled and the team uses them to form task forces and strike teams to protect structures from wildfires.

They work in partnership with B.C. Wildfire Service, which is tasked with protecting land and vegetation.

“The men and women from B.C. Wildfire are so skilled and the hardest working people I’ve ever met … I think they’re some of the best in the country, if not North America,” Hurst said as crews are working around the clock in Lytton and other parts of the province. “We’re just hoping for the best outcome for the residents.”

ALSO READ: 90% of Lytton destroyed in wildfire, injuries reported

But it’s too early in the season. Typically, Hurst said the command team isn’t deployed until mid or late July. Last year, the team only received one call and that was in August.

With a number of significant fires actively burning and hundreds already seen this year, he’s worried 2021 will be worse than 2017 and 2018. “It’s the timing, it just started so soon – we still have two months.

But firefighters across the province have jumped at the call.

Hurst isn’t the only local firefighter on the ground, with Metchosin and Sooke sending a five-person team over on the first ferry Thursday morning. They headed straight for Lytton and the Fraser Canyon area.

Local departments routinely rotate members to the Interior when needed during wildfire season. This doesn’t impact local service and mutual aid agreements continue to protect local communities if a wildfire were to break out.

When asked if the West Shore could face a similar situation to what happened in Lytton, given the recent heat wave and tinder-dry conditions, Hurst said there is always a wildfire danger. But the Island has very different fuel conditions.

“They don’t take off with the speed and intensity as they do in the Interior and other parts of B.C.,” Hurst explained. “The nice thing about the West Shore is we have so many resources on it so quickly.”

ALSO READ: Here’s how you can help victims of the devastating Lytton wildfire


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Katherine Engqvist

About the Author: Katherine Engqvist

I took on the role of Bureau Chief when we created the Greater Victoria editorial hub in 2018.
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