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Salmon Arm man devastated after fire destroys Lytton First Nation community

Homes of relatives, childhood friends, possibly his own family’s home, struck by fire
Joe Wilson with his children Kechia Wilson, Wes Snukwa (Wilson) and Spotted Eagle Williams of the Lytton First Nation, prior to the June 30, 2021 fire that may have destroyed their family home. (Contributed)

About 5 p.m. on June 30, Wes Snukwa’s phone rang.

It was his dad, in a panic.

“He started yelling on the phone, ‘the whole town of Lytton is being evacuated…’

“I was just in disbelief. He was yelling at me on the phone, yelling at the family in the house, yelling at whoever was at the door telling them to evacuate. He was yelling at my Uncle Arnold to get in the car because he was trying to gather up things from the house,” recounts Snukwa, who lives in Salmon Arm.

While they had been watching another bigger wildfire for a few days, this one was smaller and just appeared suddenly below the village.

There was no time to hook up the family trailer.

The fire was literally chasing the two vehicles containing his parents, his brother, his sister, his one uncle who lives with them and another uncle who was visiting, Snukwa said. They also picked up people along the way.

“In the truck ahead of my family there were people and dogs in the box of a truck,” he said. “They had to just jump in and get out.”

Snukwa’s family are members of the Lytton First Nation. He said his reserve is right next to the village; his family’s house is on Main Street Lytton but on the reserve side. He said the town is probably just two miles long. His family had to drive down into the village, into the black smoke, in order to escape onto Highway 12 to Lillooet.

Snukwa (who also goes by Wilson) grew up in Lytton, the only person in his family to move away.

His parents have lived in the family home for 60 years. Snukwa, 44, grew up there but moved to Salmon Arm about 16 years ago with his spouse Kristine Wilson. She was raised in Salmon Arm and wanted to return because she was pregnant.

“It’s just heart-breaking, just terrible thinking about our family home where we grew up, our neighbours, our aunties, our cousins. To know their houses are totally demolished. Literally our whole reserve is flattened.”

He said looking at all the photos Facebooked by those families is unreal.

“I can’t believe it, just chimneys are standing.”

He’s not certain his family’s home was burned to the ground, but he thinks it probably was.

Snukwa is left feeling helpless, so far away in Salmon Arm.

“You can’t even go there, the three highways are cut off,” he adds.

He pointed out while some accounts said only 250 people were evacuated from Lytton, that doesn’t include the more than 1,000 people from the adjoining Lytton First Nation.

Read more: BREAKING: Footage shows homes, building up in flames as wildfire races through Lytton

Read more: From smoke to devastation: 23 minutes in Lytton

Snukwa’s parents stayed at the Lillooet Rec Centre the night of the evacuation, but then had to go to Merritt where they slept in the car. Accommodation was found for them in Kelowna so that’s where they went July 2. He said people he knows are spread out in Logan Lake, Merritt, Chilliwack, Hope, Lillooet and up and down the Fraser Valley.

“Everyone that I know and am worried about is accounted for.”

Snukwa said he is so thankful for the surrounding communities, for donations and for help.

“For taking my family in and giving my parents food and clothes and water and someplace to gather. I’m so sorry my aunties and cousins and childhood friends, I’m so sorry their houses have burned down, with all their memories.”

As for what’s next: “We all have to connect and hug each other and talk. Everyone wants to go home. But what are they going to go home to? We don’t know what they’re going home to… I think my sister said it right. You can rebuild but you can’t get back the comfort of your childhood home.”

Asked about donations, Snukwa said he puts a lot of trust in the Savage Society which has set up a GoFundMe page, with donations going directly to support victims. If you’d like to donate, go to: Helping our friends in Lytton.

Read more: Armstrong donates trailer full of supplies for victims of Lytton fire

Read more: Here’s how you can help victims of the devastating Lytton wildfire
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Wes Snukwa’s family home in Lytton, B.C., which may have been destroyed by a wildfire on June 30, 2021. (Contributed)

Martha Wickett

About the Author: Martha Wickett

came to Salmon Arm in May of 2004 to work at the Observer. I was looking for a change from the hustle and bustle of the Lower Mainland, where I had spent more than a decade working in community newspapers.
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