Homeowners devastated by wildfires in B.C.’s interior are being assured by senior levels of government that they’ll get help to rebuild, but some previous fire survivors are warning them to be ready for challenges.
Close to 200 structures are believed to have been lost in the Central Okanagan, while scores more have likely been destroyed in the North Shuswap.
In the aftermath of the disaster, and with fires still threatening homes in some areas, both the province and the federal government are promising assistance.
Lytton, B.C. tries to rebuild 2 years after wildfire tragedy
“We know there are lots of people who have lost everything, and we’re going to be there to support them,” B.C. Premier David Eby said Tuesday, as he toured the fire zone and met with first responders and evacuees.
But some of those who have lost homes and property in previous fires say the promises of politicians won’t put a roof over their heads.
Felix von Vegesack lost his Killiney Beach home in a 2021 wildfire. Two years later it still hasn’t been rebuilt, and he said he’s buried in paperwork, including environmental and geotechnical studies.
“Disgusting. It’s just disgusting,” he said. “I just finally got my paperwork in. I have report after report after report.
“Just hire your lawyer immediately. Get a contract signed with a contractor. Don’t worry about the bidding process. You need to hire a contractor immediately.”‘
There are many similar stories in Lytton.
The community was also razed to the ground by a wildfire in 2021, and two years later little remains but the foundations of destroyed homes and businesses.
“Whatever the premier says, it’s rhetoric. He’s saying what he needs to say, but there is a big gap between that and reality,” said Bernie Fandrich, vice-president of the Lytton and District Chamber of Commerce.
‘Lytton has been forgotten’: B.C. town battles to rebuild two years after wildfire disaster
“There is almost nothing that has been done. There’s not a building that has been started, to my knowledge there’s not a building permit that has been issued. And that’s over two years.”
Fandrich cited poor communication and cooperation on the part of restoration mangers, along with layers of red tape, much of it related to archeological work and possible heritage sites on the ground where the town once stood.
The community was built on a culturally significant site to the Nlaka’pamux Nation and the B.C. government has committed to identifying and preserving any archeological findings before any rebuilding can begin.
His wife, Lorna Fandrich, owned the Lytton Chinese History Museum — and despite generous donations from the Chinese-Canadian community, hasn’t been able to start work on a rebuild.
“I was so naïve, I thought we’d be able to start building last fall and we’d be open this summer.”
Lytton resident asking province to step in and help with insurance company policy
She said she only got the site’s archeological report — one of the key hurdles to rebuilding — days ago, and still has to jump through a variety of local government hoops to get a building permit, including getting a variance because there isn’t enough space on site for paring.
What’s more, she said a federal program meant to help rebuilding simply isn’t accessible for most.
The money, through the PacifiCan program, requires residents to rebuild their properties to net-zero standard with improved fire resistance.
That adds significant up-front cost to the builds, she said, which many can’t afford, she explained.
“The difficulty for them or the businesses is you wouldn’t see that money until the build is complete,” she said.
“I am a business person, I cannot see how that is going to happen.”
Finally, some signs re-construction could soon begin in Lytton
Aaron Sutherland, vice-president western and pacific with the Insurance Bureau of Canada said Lytton’s case is an extreme example, given the level of destruction.
“All of the building records, things like that, all of the infrastructure you would need to begin a reconstruction process was essentially wiped out with the community itself,” he said.
He said some Lytton residents have chosen to take a cash settlement, while others are going through the insurance process.
For most people, he said, rebuilding a home or business takes about 12 to 18 months.
But for Lytton residents, that window has long come and gone.
“My hope is that they will have learned things from our Lytton example and that they’ll move ahead more quickly with the Kelowna group,” Lorna said.
“Time will only tell how long its going to take for the rebuild in Kelowna, for the changes to occur,” Bernie added.
“My guess is its not going to be a fast fix.”
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