We are all grieving, for people lost, lives damaged, and a beautiful town vanished from Cascadia. The scorching temperatures in Lytton this last week, and the horrible loss of the entire town to fire is something none of us could wish on anyone, all know can come for us any day, and can only be described by those who suffer through it, and all people of Lytton have my deepest sympathy. However, there are other people who are getting very excited about climate change, heat domes, lightning strikes, high temperatures, apocalypse, and weird, fire-and-atmosphere effects. I think it is out of order. Collectively, we all made Lytton, and all contributed to this horrible situation. Let’s all help her people now and find a way to set them on a sustainable footing next time. Let’s help them not only rebuild their lives, but plan for something better than a story of the tragedy of climate change, which uses Lytton as a pawn in distant conversations and political considerations. This is here, now. Not there. This tragedy is specific. This tragedy could have happened long ago. This grief could have been prevented long ago. The heat is not even new. From March of 1869 through November of 1870, Father Pandosy mentioned while packing over the Dewdney Trail from Hope, not a drop of rain or snow fell from the sky and all the rivers ran dry. He was talking about the Okanagan, a bit east of Lytton, but if it happened there, Lytton was probably in a crisis as well. Here’s Lytton in 1867. Not a Canadian town yet.
A lot of local trees went into those buildings, for sure, but likely not the ones on the banks below town or on the steep slopes leading down to the river in the distance. The slope in the foreground, for sure. Note that the flat in the centre of the image, on the bank of the Fraser River, is where Simon Fraser was met by thousands on his “discovery” trip downriver. It’s also where American militias parleyed with the Nlaka’pamux and sued for peace, before this was even a British Colony in 1858. It’s a village site, in other words. Time marches on. Here’s Lytton a generation later, now a thriving Canadian metropolis. Bit of an eroding flood coming down in the foreground.
Note the flat in the centre right of the picture, to the right of the lone dark tree in town. That’s across the Thompson River (Lytton is the confluence of two great rivers). Close up, well, it’s this:
A Nlaka’pamux graveyard looking across both the Thompson (left) and the Fraser (right). Note how few trees there are on both slopes. Now, a generation later:
Note how the trees are growing in, although not on the graveyard (to the right of the bridge), which by this time had long been a contested Chinese garden area. The trees are following wind patterns here. They are also pretty thin on the ground, overall. Fire has been a visitor here. The trees, as you can see below, continue to grow in.
And now, catastrophe.
And horrible suffering. An after-the-fire picture, and one from before.
And from above the old graveyard site:
Notice the wind and the fire are following the patterns of the rain that laid down the trees. Lytton is an ancient city, many thousands of years old, and deserves to be rebuilt both wisely and with respect. However, look again:
An ancient, settled place that spanned three points at the confluence of two great rivers, was laid out in a fire landscape, and maintained the capacity to avoid the fire. The Nlaka’pamux were denied this flexibility by colonial land-use settlement laws, reservations, and lack of access to irrigation water. Let’s rebuild their capital city with that wise access returned. Note that the fire only burned one of those three settled points, and appears to have thinned the forest down to 1867 levels — not removed it. Here, look again:
The mountain in the foreground, across the Fraser from Lytton, has burned in recent memory, although not down to the river, and even here the fire is not penetrating down to the old graveyard site, at least not yet. Let’s rebuild with these wind patterns, these rain patterns and the fire patterns that follow both in mind, as the Icelanders have learned to build in their avalanche-prone fjords:
Whatever the design is, however it works with wind, this kind of respect is needed. Flateyri was devastated once. The second avalanche, this last winter, was thrown off to the side.
Euroamerican settlement created the tragedy of Lytton as much as climate change did. Erasing its dismissal of Nlaka’pamux knowledge is a first step towards a healthy human-river-valley relationship. The thousand homeless people of Lytton deserve a new deal, because this wasn’t only Lytton that was burning but long-simmering disrespect, and that’s sure something we can fix, with honour and care.