British Columbia

Transportation Safety Board investigates possibility that a train sparked fire in Lytton

The Transportation Safety Board says new information it received on the suspected source of the fire that raced through Lytton, B.C., on June 30 prompted it to launch an investigation into trains in the area.

Witness accounts, video recordings and physical evidence at fire scene prompted TSB investigation

Hundreds of people fled their homes on a moment's notice June 30 after a fast-moving fire tore through the village of Lytton and nearby First Nations in B.C.'s Fraser Canyon. Conditions in the area were dangerously dry and windy after a record-breaking heat wave. (Edith Loring Kuhanga/Facebook)

The Transportation Safety Board (TSB) says new information it received on the suspected source of a fire that raced through Lytton, B.C., on June 30 has prompted it to launch an investigation into the possible involvement of a freight train.

The board says in a statement the information came as a result of investigations by the RCMP and BC Wildfire Service into the cause of the fire.

The TSB says it is not yet known which rail line is linked to the train in question and neither Canadian Pacific Rail nor CN Rail has filed any "occurrence reports" related to the Lytton fire.

Normally, the TSB doesn't investigate unless a transport company files such a report. 

No cause for the fire that destroyed almost all of the village and killed two people has been disclosed, although local Indigenous leaders say train movement during drought-like conditions made people anxious.

CN Rail has said its trains were not linked to the fire and CP resumed its service through Lytton on Monday.

Canadian Pacific Railway locomotives are shown in the Fraser Canyon south of Lytton on July 3. ( James MacDonald/Bloomberg)

Enough to go 'take a look'

The investigation is in its early stages, according to TSB chairperson Kathy Fox.

"Without going into the specifics, it really comes down to first-person witness interviews that were conducted or video recordings and/or physical evidence, that was found on or near the railway tracks, that suggests that a train may have played a role in starting a fire," Fox told CBC News.

"There's enough there to at least go in and take a look."

The TSB is working with agencies including the RCMP and BC Wildfire Service. 

Fox says the TSB is focusing on rail traffic that moved through the Lytton area when the fire started.

She said "a specific CP train" that was in the area will be examined "in the coming hours or coming days." Investigators will likely provide an update in a few days.

Another TSB investigator has been deployed to another fire near rail tracks northwest of the community of Elko, located in East Kootenay near the Alberta-U.S. border.

Train traffic temporarily paused

Federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra has ordered all train traffic through Lytton to halt for 48 hours effective immediately. 

Meanwhile, the Thompson-Nicola Regional District organized bus tours for displaced residents Friday, saying that while unescorted entry isn't safe, work has been done to clear a way to permit taking residents through the area by bus.

Federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said fires across B.C. have devastated many communities and families.

"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,'' Miller said in the Transport Canada statement that ordered the two-day halt to train movement between Kamloops and Boston Bar.

Some progress against fires

More than 200 wildfires are burning in B.C. as a recent heat wave and parched conditions combined to raise the fire risk in many parts of the province to high or extreme. Lightning also continued to challenge wildfire crews in the province, but the B.C. Wildfire Service reported some progress on at least one of the 15 most-threatening fires in the province.

Hundreds of lightning strikes sparked more than half of roughly two dozen new fires recorded across B.C. since Thursday.

But the wildfire service said slightly cooler weather and modest rainfall earlier in the week helped crews build guards around the entire perimeter of a roughly three-square-kilometre fire that forced evacuation orders and alerts near Durand Lake, southwest of Kamloops.

Strong winds this week near Lytton also spawned a spot fire on the west side of the Fraser River, but the wildfire service said crews responded aggressively.

It said firefighters, including 40 recently arrived from New Brunswick, are making progress laying guards and protecting buildings along other flanks of the 88-square-kilometre fire that destroyed Lytton.

About 174 fires have been recorded this week, 26 of them in the last two days, the wildfire service said.

With files from Meera Bains

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