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Wildfire-stricken Canadian villages are working to protect their future from climate

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Reuters

REVELSTOKE — A A year after a wildfire destroyed the village of Lytton in western Canada, residents, local government leaders, and the Government of British Columbia tackled the slow and costly reality of guaranteeing the community in the future against climate change. I'm out.

The remote village is located at the confluence of the Fraser and Thompson rivers in the high, dry mountains of British Columbia Interior, and is the centerpiece of fires and landslides. In June 2021, 90% of Lytton's buildings were burned down the day after the village recorded the highest temperature ever in Canada.

This gives authorities a unique opportunity to rebuild the entire community from scratch using refractory materials and energy efficient building codes.

However, long-term disaster mitigation plans and net-zero ambitions go against the reality of human impatience and reimbursement limits from insurance companies. Residents of burnout still live in temporary accommodation and want to rebuild their homes and continue their lives.

"There is a clear difference between the ideal and the real," said Tricia Thorpe, 61, who lost her home in a fire.

"I don't think anyone has a problem building FireSmart, but they're trying to build a model village. They're talking about solar (panel) sidewalks.

As climate change intensifies, the risk of devastating weather increases and attention is focused on how to build communities.

According to the Canadian Insurance Agency (IBC), stormy weather across Canada caused insured casualties of $ 2.1 billion ($ 1.63 billion) last year, including $ 102 million for the Litton fire. ) Has been reached. Since 1983, Canadian insurers have averaged approximately $ 934 million in serious weather-related losses annually.

The debate over how to restore Lytton highlights the pesky reality of climate adaptation and the costs and delays people are willing to endure to reduce carbon emissions and reduce fire risk. To

In the village of 300 people, some high ambitions have already been shelved in support of faster reconstruction.

The Lytton Council wanted to adopt a building ordinance requiring net zero-emission homes, but reduced it to lower energy efficiency standards after residents pushed it back.

The village also considered burying all power lines to reduce the risk of fire. This is a three-year process, but now we are installing temporary fictitious power lines instead to get the job done in nine months.

"Sometimes I'm dissatisfied with the lack of knowledge and the inhabitants' belief that reconstruction is impossible," said Jan Polderman, Mayor of Lytton. ..

"Potentially to be the first generation model of Net Zero."

Polderman said solar panel pedestrians (enhanced solar panels instead of town pedestrian pavement) ) And wind energy could power streetlights and city buildings.

Breaking new ground

For 13 months after the fire, little progress was made in recovery, and only a quarter of the properties had ash and debris removed. It was only.

The local council is still the most comprehensive and fireproof building ordinance ever developed in Canada to make Lytton the most protected community in the country. increase.

Based on the Canadian National Research Council's expertise in developing communities in wildfire-prone areas, the new By-Laws are everything from building materials to landscaping, maintenance and real estate storage. Is targeted.

It took several months to finalize the bylaws and community consultations.

"I think it would have been faster to say'let's get people home as soon as possible', but in a few years the situation may be the same," he said. The FireSmart Commission, a state organization that leads community engagement in Kelsey Winter Lytton, Chairman of British Columbia.

"It will take longer than many wanted, but Lytton is breaking new ground."

Other complications It is hindering recovery. Record floods in November washed away local highways and intermittently closed them during the winter to control avalanches.

In addition, the village is within the territory of the Thompson indigenous people, who need archaeological research to check the indigenous relics before rebuilding. Lytton First Nation, part of Nlaka’pamux, also lost dozens of homes in the 2021 fire.

Insurance Limits

Approximately 60% of Lytton's residents are uninsured or uninsured, and residents and insurance companies struggled with who to pay, delaying debris removal. rice field. In March, the state announced that it would provide $ 18.4 million to cover debris removal, archaeological research and soil restoration.

On the other hand, residents are running out of time, usually 18 to 24 months after the disaster, as a temporary living allowance provided by insurance companies. increase. In addition to the challenges, insurance companies are hesitant to pay for home upgrades as described in the new building ordinance.

"Insurance restores the building you had, not the one you wanted," said Aaron Sutherland, Vice President of the Pacific Region of Insurance Bureau of Canada.

Canada's Catastrophic Loss Reduction Institute (ICLR) has helped develop Lytton's Fire Protection Ordinance, which estimates that it will add approximately $ 5,000 to reconstruction costs.

According to Sutherland, insurers recognize the benefits of fire resistance, but upgrades to increase energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions cost "tens of thousands of dollars" per household. It will be added.

"When people signed an insurance policy, they were based on the articles of incorporation of the day and what the insurance company was expecting to pay," he added. ..

Building emissions account for 13% of Canada's total greenhouse gas emissions, and reducing them is an important part of the Government of Canada's climate goals.

Ottawa helps make up for shortfalls and provides homeowners with basic restructuring insurance that wants to rebuild a net-zero or flame-retardant home for $ 6 million.

Meanwhile, Lytton is facing yet another wildfire season. On July 14, a wildfire broke out across the river from Lytton, destroying at least six assets.

Last year, 1,642 wildfires burned 869,279 hectares (2.1 million acres) in British Columbia. This is above the 2010-2020 average of 1,352 fires and 348,917 hectares.

Some homeowners had enough delays. Tricia Thorpe, who lives just outside the village boundaries, is being rebuilt without a permit, and others are moving elsewhere.

"I intended to do that, but I don't expect it to be rebuilt so far," said Michele, a retired nurse who burned down a 100-year-old bright yellow house. Feist (59) said. "I wasn't responsive at all levels. I'm not a bitter person, I'm trying to be realistic about things, but I miss my town." ($ 1 = 1.2856 CAD)

(Report by Nia Williams, British Columbia, edited by Marguerita Choy)