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Evacuee fled barefoot from ferocious Lytton wildfire

‘The fire was coming from above us and it was coming from below, from the river down the railway tracks’
Alfred Higginbottom, of the Skuppah Indian Band, a Nlaka’pamux First Nations government, watches as a wildfire burns on the side of a mountain in Lytton, B.C., Thursday, July 1, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

A woman who escaped a ferocious wildfire that tore through the village of Lytton and surrounding First Nation communities says she didn’t even have time to put shoes on before fleeing.

Noeleen McQuary-Budde says her husband, Lance Budde, returned moments after stepping outside their house to start walking a friend home. He screamed that a fire was upon them and they had to leave.

McQuary-Budde grabbed her wallet, phone and two woven birch bark baskets made by her mother and grandmother, and ran.

“The fire was beside the trees, beside our house. The black smoke was just pouring down Main Street,” she said in an interview Friday.

“The fire was coming from above us and it was coming from below, from the river down the railway tracks.”

The blaze levelled the village after three consecutive days of record-setting extreme heat that peaked at 49.6C, the highest temperature ever recorded in Canada.

McQuary-Budde was among about 1,000 people who managed to escape. A search is underway for an unknown number of people who are unaccounted for.

She said the heat in the days before the fire combined with wind surging through the canyon to make it feel “like you’re walking into a blow dryer.”

McQuary-Budde and her husband jumped in their truck with their 55-kilogram Cane Corso dog named Daisy. They would collect another 11 people on their way out of town. By the time they reached Lillooet, about 45 minutes away, they were sunburned but safe.

“We made it. We made it,” she said. “I don’t think everyone made it.”

She said she has been touched by an outpouring of support from community members in Lillooet. One woman gave her shoes, other supplies and a hug, she said.

McQuary-Budde said she hasn’t been able to sleep since the fire. She spoke on the phone from Squamish, where she and her husband headed due to wildfire smoke over Lillooet.

Like so many victims of the fire, their future is somewhat uncertain. But she said she is planning to visit her daughter in Vancouver on Friday then go to Nadleh Whut’en, a First Nation community on Fraser Lake, where she was raised.

“They’re rallying behind us. Two of the councilmen phoned me yesterday and said there’s a newly renovated house they’ve offered us,” she said.

“I’m really, really, really grateful for that because I know there’s so many people who don’t (have that).”

McQuary-Budde said she moved to Lytton three years ago and fell in love with the tight-knit community’s generosity. If someone had extra cherries, apples or salmon, they didn’t hesitate to offer it.

“It’s like one, big extended family.”

Amy Smart, The Canadian Press

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