Investigators with the Transportation Safety Board are examining whether a freight train caused the fire that burned down the village of Lytton in British Columbia’s Interior and killed two people.
TSB chair Kathy Fox said the federal agency launched the probe after it received new information on Thursday drawn from the investigation the RCMP and BC Wildfire Service are conducting.
“It is information that came about as a result of eyewitness observations, video, as well as physical evidence found in the vicinity of the track,” Ms. Fox said in an interview Friday. “That is enough for us to suspect that there may be the involvement of a train.”
There has been widespread speculation among residents in the community that a passing train sparked the fire, which broke out last Wednesday and spread quickly throughout Lytton, destroying most of the community. The fire followed an intense heat wave that saw temperatures in Lytton hit nearly 50 C – the hottest ever recorded in Canada – and prompted warnings about the worsening effects of climate change.
Canadian National Railway Co. and Canadian Pacific Railway Co. both operate in the area around Lytton. Neither reported any incidents to the TSB after the deadly fire, Ms. Fox said.
She said the TSB reached out to both railway companies as speculation, including videos that appear to show smoke coming from trains in the region, mounted in the wake of the fire. The two firms still did not report any potential fires. It is possible, she noted, for a train to have caused a fire without crews noticing.
CN said it has been co-operating with investigators and will continue to do so.
“The cause of the fire is still under investigation, and CN will not speculate pending the outcome of that investigation,” spokesman Mathieu Gaudreault said in a statement.
The TSB intends to examine one of CP’s trains, which is now in a CN yard in Vancouver, in relation to the Lytton investigation, Ms. Fox said.
CP spokesperson Andy Cummings said the company will “fully co-operate with fire investigators as called upon.”
Separately, Transport Canada halted railway traffic around Lytton for 48 hours as residents were granted temporary access to the devastated town. The ministerial order, which took effect Friday at midnight, came after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with First Nations leaders who threatened to block railway activity unless they were further included in the recovery plans.
The ministerial order prevents CN and CP from moving trains on their networks between Kamloops and Boston Bar – Lytton sits between those two communities. The only exceptions are for emergency fire response, maintenance and repair work.
Federal Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra said in a statement that the government is committed to supporting those affected by the wildfires in B.C.
“This ministerial order is being put in place in the interest of safe railway operations and to protect residents who are temporarily returning to inspect their homes as safely as possible,” he said in a statement detailing the pause to railway traffic.
Marc Miller, the federal Minister of Indigenous Services, noted in the same statement that governments must “meaningfully” respond to concerns from First Nations.
“At this critical juncture, it is imperative that we all listen to the voices of Indigenous leaders and engage meaningfully on a path forward that respects their needs and priorities, while ensuring rail safety and security,” he said.
Last week’s fire forced an immediate evacuation of Lytton and surrounding First Nations.
Matt Pasco, chair of the Nlaka’pamux Nation Tribal Council, or NNTC, said his group was prepared to stop train activity unless they were better included in the recovery plans. He said this should include plans for resuming train activity. He and Janet Webster, chief of the Lytton First Nation, met with Mr. Trudeau on Thursday.
Mr. Pasco said representatives from the NNTC would be among the investigators in Lytton.
“We need to be involved,” he said in an interview on Friday.
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