Published with The Narhwhal and The Tyee.
Wednesday, June 30, 2021: the day British Columbia came out of a 67-week state of emergency. The day before an unmarked Canada Day. The day the town of Lytton burned down.
We shouldn’t have been surprised. Three days of high temperatures had shattered all-time temperature records,with Lytton, B.C., reaching an unfathomable 49.6 degrees — the highest temperature ever recorded in Canada.
British Columbia had already seen an unparalleled death toll that week — hundreds of sudden deaths brought on by “a heat onslaught more intense by some measures than anything in global records,”, says Bob Henson and Jeff Masters from Yale Climate Solutions, in an article for The Tyee. Many who died were found alone in their homes waiting for overrun paramedics to arrive.
And then the Lytton wildfire happened.
With only 15 minutes to gather their belongings and evacuate the town, Lytton residents fled in all directions, not knowing which, if any, direction was safe. By the time I arrived on July 2, residents had been constantly on the move finding loved ones, animals and places to sleep. Lillooet had been evacuated, re-evacuating those Lytton residents who headed north and Kamloops was under threat of intense lightning storms, which would set the city on fire that same evening. Oh, and more evacuations and re-evacuations.
I was interested to know how residents in these highly affected areas felt about climate change and its role in the wildfires. It was barely July and our province was on fire. What I find even more disturbing is that First Nations account for 40 per cent of evacuations in Canada, yet make up only four per cent of Canada’s overall population, according to climate author and Queen’s University Fellow Ed Struzik. This overrepresentation speaks to the vast, systemic inequalities in Canada, a country seemingly obsessed with covering up examples of environmental racism.I received the full spectrum of opinions on climate change, from “it’s climate change — it will change. It’ll be hot, then it’ll be cold. It’s fine,” to “If we don’t start treating this planet with respect, we’re doomed.” What was made clear to me, is that in a time of crisis, people step up to help. Whether it’s giving, receiving or distributing donations, housing, feeding or uplifting spirits, both individuals and whole communities have given up their time and sleep to look after the needs of others. Let me introduce you to a few of these heroes.