2022 Breaking News, Large Newsroom finalist

Lytton, B.C., destroyed by wildfire

About the Project

By July 1, The Globe and Mail’s dedicated climate team and bureau in the province of British Columbia had already spent much of the week explaining to readers the science and devastating human toll of the unprecedented heat wave that pushed temperatures to highs unheard of on the normally mild-weathered coast. The highest temperature ever recorded in Canada – 49.6C in Lytton, B.C. – was almost biblical, one climatologist told The Globe.

Parts of the province always burn in the summer, though not usually that early. And the fire wasn’t the usual remote burn: Instead, an urgent evacuation order had sent 1,000 people fleeing the area of Lytton and within hours, the entire historic community had been incinerated, including the city centre, ambulance station and health centre.

Editor James Keller recruited more reporters and figured out the logistics of getting someone to a devastated place. Over the next 72 hours, the Globe drew on reporters from across the newsroom, regardless of geography, to tell the human stories of the crises. In addition to the B.C. bureau, the team included reporters from Toronto, Calgary and Edmonton.

Environment writer Kathryn Blaze Baum, science writer Ivan Semeniuk and data journalist Matthew McClearn had already been working on an in-depth piece explaining the heat dome and the dangers it posed, particularly as a fire starter. They scrambled to incorporate what happened in Lytton, a devastating example of how severe weather – which broke records for how many records were set – and especially a dry spring created an especially dangerous mix of heat and fuel.

Meanwhile, reporter Andrea Woo and photojournalist Jackie Dives drove into the evacuation centres, meeting Lytton residents in shock, and local residents who dropped everything to help.

The story of the fire, with the heat dome as its opening act, was Canada’s starkest example of a world in an era of climate change. Kathryn stepped in once again with a dramatic explanation of how the firestorm was started. The North American Lightning Detection Network recorded more than 700,000 lightning flashes across B.C. and northwestern Alberta, she wrote. The piece made plain that the fire that had consumed Lytton had been extreme, but given the lightning activity and the heat dome, unavoidable.