VANCOUVER – A wildfire that destroyed the British Columbia village of Lytton couldn’t have been stopped, even with an area-wide emergency response, says a new report.
Published this month by the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction, the report says scientists found the root cause was “easily ignitable structures and homes, and not just a wildfire problem.”
Even the best possible fire response would have been “overwhelmed” because at least 20 buildings were fully engulfed within 80 minutes and would have required at least 60 fire trucks to contain, it says.
Alan Westhaver, a wildland urban fire consultant and co-author of the report, said there was nothing the firefighters could have done to prevent the spread once it had started.
“It’s an overwhelming amount of fire in a very short span of time,” he said in an interview Tuesday.
“Firefighting is important. It’s going to be critical, but we have to change the conditions around our homes so that fewer homes ignite.”
Westhaver said there needs to be more co-ordination between governments, agencies, homeowners, corporate landowners and private businesses to help prevent future disasters.
“Everyone in the community needs to work together and do their share and deal with issues on their property because fire does not stop at property lines.”
The report includes 33 specific recommendations for ways to mitigate wildfire risk, while reducing exposure and vulnerabilities within so-called home ignition zones.
They include mandatory mowing of tall grass and weeds around residential areas and evacuation routes, and development changes like minimum distances between buildings. Itwould mean at least an eight-metre distance between one-storey structures and 13 metres for two-storey buildings.
The report also says flammable objects such as firewood should be separated from main buildings.
Wildfire embers are often responsible for starting small spot fires within communities, so making homes more resistant to fires should be a priority, Westhaver added.
Two people were killed in the Lytton fire and most of the village burned to the ground on June 30 last year in the middle of a heat wave that marked the hottest day ever recorded in Canada at 49.6 C in Lytton.
Westhaver said the report findings should also be used to help other communities prepare for wildfires.
“Lytton was an extreme event, but it wasn’t exceptional. The disaster followed a very familiar pattern that we see at virtually all other major wildland urban fire disasters,” he said.
“Wildland fires are inevitable, but wildland urban fire disasters are not.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 17, 2022.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
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