Hi. Let me tell you about my incredible village and home –Lytton – the river rafting capital of Canada. The legendary Canadian railroads still stop here, and it’s a beautiful drive along BS99 initially north and soon southwest all the way to Vancouver. Three hundred kilometres and just over four hours will get you there.
We are located where the beautiful Thompson and Fraser rivers meet, and are surrounded by amazing forests mainly of ponderosa pine and Douglas fir. Forestry was our major industry for decades, but the mill closed down 15 years ago, so we rely on tourism nowadays. Oh yes. I forgot to tell you that we were established back in 1858 during the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush, similar to your Otago Gold Rush.
I was born and raised here, attended our sole primary and secondary school and am now working in our tourist industry. Our population? Approaching 250.
Until late June there was nothing special to report. Summer is coming, river rafting is in full swing and the school term just about to end.
Until late June we had no idea that our little Lytton would become the centre of attention of our country and indeed the whole planet.
Our kids have been taught all about climate change at school, and in recent seasons the increased temperatures and reduced rainfall have resulted in forest fires becoming more and more prevalent, from California up through Washington State and Oregon and in recent times even extending into our own Canadian province of British Columbia. But surely climate change is in the future, and we were relaxed about its ongoing impact to our wonderful community. Until late June!
They called it a ‘heat dome’. Not sure where that name came from, but it is now carved into the memory of everyone in Lytton. On Sunday it got hot, very hot, our hottest day on record at 46C. Unbearable and dangerous to the health, especially the elderly. Monday no better and a new record – 47.5C. Tuesday afternoon a new record 49.5C just after 4pm. And these temperatures were recorded just outside of our village in a tree shaded location, so we were probably over 50C! The night temperatures were only slightly lower. Simply impossible to get any sleep.
Our temperate climate is similar to Mangawhai, summers reaching around 25C, and winters cool. Homes seldom have air conditioning and are built to retain the heat. June is early summer here.
Thursday, and the fires came. The winds picked up to 71km/h and were pushing the fire north into our community. Ninety per cent of our village burnt to the ground within 25 minutes, and in the words of Jan Polderman our Mayor: “I was lucky to get out with my own life. Within about 15 minutes the whole town was engulfed in
flames… people basically just grabbed their pets, grabbed their keys and got into their cars and fled.” He had earlier ordered residents to evacuate.
A few days ago nobody in Lytton – or Mangawhai – had heard of ‘heat domes’. Now everyone who had a home or business in Lytton understands that heat domes occur when the atmosphere traps hot ocean air like a lid or cap, trapping heat at the surface and resulting in the formation of heat waves. Basically, incredibly hot air is trapped over a location fuelled by the lack of moisture in the ground inevitably caused by the climate crisis. Previous forest fires have reduced the moisture even further and so temperatures get even higher. A vicious circle.
Our Tuesday record was over 5 degrees higher than anything ever experienced in Canada. For you oldies that still prefer Fahrenheit that’s 121.3F, well over 20F higher than our body’s temperature. Staying outdoors in these conditions will kill you.
Is the Lytton story and its incredible temperatures directly attributable to climate change? Experts say the fingerprints of global heating are all over it.
Our complete community has gone. All over the region people are dying of extreme heat. Life in Lytton will never be the same again. Could this happen in Mangawhai? Our climates are very similar.
Climate change is not about the future, it’s about now.
The Canadian town of Lytton has been levelled by wildfires caused by record temperatures. PHOTO/EDITH LORING KUHANGA/FACEBOOK