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'Sense of future' for Lytton if homes rebuilt by this time next year: B.C. minister

'Sense of future' for Lytton if homes rebuilt by this time next year: B.C. minister

LYTTON, B.C. – British Columbia’s public safety minister says he expects many houses and the municipal infrastructure destroyed by a wildfire in Lytton to be rebuilt by this time next year.

Mike Farnworth says that would give displaced residents returning home a sense of their future after 90 per cent of their village burned to the ground last June 30 during a record-setting heat wave.

Debris removal is underway, possibly allowing rebuilding to start in September so that the water and sewer system can be put in place.

Farnworth said he understands the frustration of many residents who have been out of their homes for a year while the province works with First Nations to recognize the challenges of what is an important archeological site.

The village is believed by experts to have been occupied by Indigenous Peoples about 10,000 years ago, and the minister says that significance has made rebuilding complex because every resident will need to get a permit costing about $10,000.

Farnworth said the province has streamlined that process by holding the permit for the entire site and picking up the cost so that’s one less thing for residents to worry about, whether they had insurance or not.

“What I want people to know is we are committed to rebuilding. We are working very hard with the council, with the First Nations, to rebuild it,” he said.

Disruptions caused by supply chain issues and a highway system that was partly wiped out during an atmospheric river last fall have added to delays in rebuilding the community that will be more resilient to fire, Farnworth said.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada recently said the wildfire is estimated to have caused more than $100 million in insured damage.

Farnworth has said the government would look at including heat waves in the Emergency Program Act following the fire where two people died.

The province recently committed $21 million for rebuilding efforts as well as for hiring municipal staff and fire protection service to allow construction to begin.

Despite millions of dollars in funding from both provincial and federal governments, some residents of Lytton say progress toward rebuilding has been too slow.

In a joint statement marking the anniversary Thursday, Premier John Horgan and Farnworth highlighted the collaboration between all levels of government working to rebuild the community in B.C.’s southern interior.

“On this sombre anniversary, we reaffirm our commitment to all those affected by last year’s wildfire that we will not stop working until everyone can see the pathway to returning home,” the statement said.

Federal Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair said in a separate statement that Ottawa is also dedicated to supporting Lytton’s recovery.

“The loss of life, homes, infrastructure and the ongoing disruption to people’s lives is heartbreaking,” he said.

Earlier this month, the federal government announced $77 million in funding to help rebuild a fire-resistant and energy-efficient community.

©2022 The Canadian Press

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