LYTTON, British Columbia (AP) — A forensic team arrived Saturday in a Canadian town destroyed by wildfire to confirm reports that two people were killed during the blazes which forced residents to abandon their homes with just a few minutes notice several days ago.
The Coroners Service in British Columbia said they will enter the devastated village of Lytton, located 95 miles northeast of Vancouver, “only if it has been deemed safe.”
The roughly 1,000 residents of Lytton fled their homes Wednesday evening after suffering the previous day under a record high of 121.2 Fahrenheit.
One resident said he watched his parents die when a power line fell on them while trying to hide from the flames.
Jeff Chapman told CBC News he and his parents, who were in their 60s, were preparing for a late afternoon barbecue when they saw smoke and flames approaching.
“There was nothing we could do,” said Chapman. “It came in so fast, we had nowhere to go.”
Chapman said he helped his parents take shelter in a trench that had been dug to repair a septic system. He covered the trench with some tin. Then he spent the next 45 minutes laying on the gravel of a railway track as the fire burned around him.
When he returned for his parents, a power line had fallen on them.
“We just tried to save what we worked our whole life for,” he said. “It might not have been the best, but it was home.”
Those who escaped the fire scattered to evacuation centers across the province.
John Haugen, acting chief of the Lytton First Nation, said many people are still in shock over losing their homes.
“For many it’s traumatic,” he told Global News. “They still haven’t been able to really wrap their heads around they have no home to go back to.”
The B.C. Wildfire Service says the fire burning near Lytton has grown to 32,000 square miles in size.
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Another fire near Kamloops, B.C, forced officials to evacuate more than 100 homes Friday evening.
The cause of the wildfire that devastated Lytton is under investigation. Earlier this week Premier John Horgan said he had heard anecdotal evidence linking the start of the fire to a train running through the community.
The office of federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said in an emailed statement that it would take necessary action should any potential non-compliance with Canada’s rail safety laws and regulations be identified.