Communication with First Nations during Lytton fire 'didn't live up to expectations': B.C.'s safety minister

British Columbia’s public safety minister has acknowledged the province failed to communicate with First Nation’s communities in a timely fashion as a deadly fire devoured Lytton.

Chief Matt Pasco of the Nlaka'pamux Nation Tribal Council said nobody from the province contacted leadership in his community until hours after the fire began Wednesday.

When officials did finally get in touch with him, it was to check on the health of his cattle.

“My cattle mean more to this province than Nlaka'pamux people,” Pasco said. “Nobody stepped forward for significant hours while this was going on.”

More than 800 NNTC members have been displaced by the fire — forced to find shelter in communities spread from the lower mainland to Kamloops.

“My staff said we need to do this. Let’s figure it out. So we started setting up our own evacuation centres,” said NNTC’s Gary Abbott.

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth told The Canadian Press steps were taken to address shortcomings that contributed to the breakdown in communication.

“While there were challenging factors, early communication with Nlaka'pamux Nation Tribal Council and the Oregon Jack Creek Band didn’t live up to expectations,” Farnworth said in a statement.

Many NNTC evacuees initially went to Kamloops, but when flames flared up there just one day after fire destroyed Lytton, they were forced to flee again.

About 30 people found refuge with Sts’ailes Nation, at a retreat centre on the banks of the Chehalis River.

“Some of them were just so tired, dismantled. Mentally, spiritually. We’re here just to provide a place for them to sleep and rest,” said Chief Ralph Leon.

The property can accommodate up to 150 people, and will welcome more evacuees if other Indigenous communities are faced with disasters this summer.

“Sts’ailes is willing to support as long as needed. We got direction from our chief and council to support the people the best way we can,” said Janice George, health director with the Sts’ailes Nation.

That support includes three hot meals a day, clothing, toiletries, even games and toys for kids and a roof for families that may not have one of their own to return to.