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'Insane that it has taken this long': Lytton’s piece-by-piece rebuild

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They are the sounds of progress and the sights that represent hope. They are the beginnings of new construction in Lytton that will bring people home.

“It’s incredibly exciting. I think there’s seven buildings under construction right now,” said Lytton Mayor Denise O’Connor.

“It is so hopeful and so much optimism seeing those buildings going up in the town. I’ve heard of more property owners making the decision to rebuild and come back after seeing that get started,” she said.

One of those homes being built belongs to Lilliane Graie who lost her place in the 2021 wildfire that destroyed most of the community.

“They just poured the basement slab last Monday and they’ll be working on the roof that has been partially pre-built,” she explained.

Graie has been living in a cabin in Boston Bar since shortly after her house burned down

“We are so grateful to have a roof over our heads. But…it’s not ours. We want our home back,” she said.

And the question remains. Why has it taken so long for the Village of Lytton to rebuild?

“It’s insane. It’s absolutely insane that it has taken this long,” Graie said.

“Other communities that have been hit by fires since are already in their first stages of clean-up and rebuild,” she explained.

The mayor said she also doesn’t know why it’s taken so long.

“I really don’t know. I don’t think there’s one thing. I’d guess there’s multiple reasons why it’s taken so long and maybe this review will bring those out,” O’Connor said.

She’s referring to the review by B.C.’s auditor general which was announced earlier this month and will look into the province’s response to the disaster.

“The auditor general is an independent officer of the legislature and has an important role in conducting performance audits of government and crown agency programs. The ministry will support his work as requested,” said a statement from the Ministry of Forests and the Ministry of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness.

“We look forward to any recommendations he may have to help the province enhance support for people and communities after a wildfire,” the email to CTV News said.

The ministry also said that its priority remains “helping Lytton progress in their rebuild."

"Work is well underway, and more building permits are being issued,” the statement continued.

Graie believes “part of the problem was nobody really knew how to deal with a town being wiped off the map. Not only did you have our town but you had fires going all over the place.”

Meanwhile, the mayor said without accommodations in the village, finding construction workers has been challenging.

She also points out that because Lytton was built on an ancient Indigenous community, every property needs an archeological assessment. But even after permit approval, she said some owners are facing tens of thousands of dollars in extra costs due to provincial requirements.

“Property owners are required to hire an archeologist, who in turn hires monitors to be watching as the excavation happens,” she explained, adding that the Village is providing a $5,000 grant, but owners have to cover the rest.

Still, O’Connor, who just received her own building permit, said the community will continue to rebuild “piece by piece.”

“I talked to Interior Health last week and they are planning to rebuild the medical centre back on the property they own in the village and they are saying three to five years for that,” she said, adding that she wishes planning had begun two years ago.

She also said council has seen concept drawings for a grocery store. Plans for other public buildings are underway.

Meanwhile, Graie said she will never forget the day of the fire.

“I watched the fire come up from below and it leaned against two lanes of highway to get to the fuel on the other side of the highway. It was like a living thing,” she said.

“The smoke and the smell and the fear that you saw in people’s faces and people in shock that have been taken out of their home that was on fire and you didn’t even know it. It was so much chaos,” she recalled.

“It had a profound effect on my family and I, and we’ve chosen to rebuild our home fire resilient for that very reason because we don’t ever want to deal with this again,” she said.

Graie hopes to be in her new home in August.

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