'What rebuilding?' Lytton, B.C. resident says 10 months after fire, properties still not cleared

A woman whose home was destroyed in the fire that razed most of the community of Lytton, B.C., is speaking out about the slow pace of work to clean up the wreckage.

April 30 marked 10 months since the fire swept through the village, killing two people and destroying dozens of homes.

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“In that 10 months, my property and many properties in town, there’s been absolutely nothing done to them, they sit there in the pile of ash, pile of debris, and it’s been just extremely frustrating to see nothing happening after all this time,” Lytton homeowner Denise O’Connor said.

In early March, the province announced an additional $18.4 million to cover the cost of debris removal, archeological work and soil remediation for municipal properties and properties belonging to the “uninsured and underinsured.”

O’Connor said since then there has been movement on clearing homes on the Lytton First Nation’s reserve and some uninsured properties.

But she alleged insured homeowners like herself have been left waiting and wondering about what is going on, with no movement or communication from government or insurance adjusters.

“I’ve had people say, ‘Oh, everything must be just fine. How’s the rebuilding going?'” she said.

“What rebuilding? There’s no rebuilding.”

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In a statement, Emergency Management B.C. said it was working with the village, insurance providers and the local First Nation to get work done “as quickly as possible.”

It said debris removal was complete on municipal properties and had begun on “the remaining properties” under the leadership of the Village of Lytton.

EMBC said the province was also covering the cost of archeological permits and work. The province has committed to identifying and preserving any archeological findings given the village’s location on a long-time culturally important site to the Nlaka’pamux Nation.

“EMBC and the Village of Lytton are in discussions with insurance providers to ensure debris removal is completed as soon as possible,” it said.

“The province is unaware of any reason insurance providers cannot immediately commence debris removal on insured properties, and insured property owners should engage with their providers on this matter.”

Some of the current challenges relate to archeological permitting and costing and also the soil sampling and remediation,” Rob de Pruis, national director, consumer and industry relations with the IBC told Global News Monday.

He said insurance does not cover archaeological costs and there could be artifacts in the ground that could be up to 10,000 years old.

de Pruis added the soil needs to be sifted in a very extensive archaeological process so they are working with government officials to provide costing for this process and then work with homeowners so they are not on the hook for those costs.

“We need to do this on a property-by-property basis only because some of the debris removal is more extensive than other properties, so this takes time,” de Pruis said.

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Village Mayor Jan Polderman has previously cited a number of factors delaying cleanup from the fire, including 87 days spent waiting for toxicology reports and safe work procedures and two months spent sifting through the wreckage.

O’Connor, who is currently living in another family property in Lytton that survived the fire, said many of her former neighbours are still relying on motels for roofs over their heads, or have simply moved to other communities and may not come back.

She said those waiting for debris removal so they can start rebuilding their lives feel forgotten, particularly given the quick repair work they’ve seen elsewhere in B.C. this year.

“We heard from from Premier Horgan right after the fire that they would be here to help and that they’re going to rebuild this wonderful community,” she said.

“Monte Lake, yeah, I know they’re not a municipality but they’re rebuilding (after the summer’s White Rock Lake fire), the Coquihalla was rebuilt and opened up within weeks, the railway, the First Nation lands are cleared. What’s going on?”

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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