While it was a chaotic and tragic scene on the ground Wednesday evening in Lytton, one Air Canada pilot had a different view of the fatal fire that tore through the village.
Doug Thiessen left Vancouver International Airport at 6:10 p.m. Wednesday, flying a Boeing 787 on the way to London, England. Within about 15 minutes, as he climbed through 30,000 feet, he came upon the the giant plume of smoke above Lytton.
“Unbeknownst to us, that was the exact time Lytton was going down, it was burning,” Thiessen said.
“That was the town, it was heartbreaking. It had either just gone through the town, or it was the town ... it's a huge fire.”
Thiessen has been flying for 35 years, 28 of those with Air Canada. In his career he's flown around the South Pacific and seen plenty of thunderstorms and even volcanic eruptions, but he says he's never seen anything like the smoke from Lytton.
“I've been doing this for 30 years, down in the South Pacific, I've been around the world and seen volcanic clouds, I've seen volcanoes blow up underneath it. It resembled that a little bit,” he said.
“I've never seen one quite that intense ... The fuel involved to make that fire is quite exceptional, it was the perfect storm ... it must have come in incredibly hot in that area.”
Thiessen gave the smoke a wide berth as they travelled north.
“If you want to know what turbulence looks like, that's what it looks like,” he said. “Also, the material in there is quite corrosive and it could possibly damage the aircraft.”
Thiessen returned to B.C. on Saturday, and noted there was a lot more widespread smoke in the atmosphere than when he had left.
“There's a lot of fires, the normal fire season-type fires, there's probably five or six of them going, but nothing looked quite as unique as that one that I took photos of,” he said.
As of Sunday, there are 176 active fires burning across the province.