As It Happens·Q&A

Woman who lost her home in Lytton, B.C., fire pushes back against TSB report

Edith Loring Kuhanga wants the rail companies in Lytton, B.C., to take responsibility for the deadly fire that ripped through the town this summer, killing two people and destroying almost everything in its path — including her home.

The Transportation Safety Board found no evidence linking rail companies to the deadly blaze

Edith Loring Kuhanga's home was destroyed in the Lytton, B.C., wildfire in June. (CBC)

Story Transcript

Edith Loring Kuhanga wants rail companies to take responsibility for the deadly fire that ripped through Lytton, B.C., this summer, killing two people and destroying almost everything in its path — including her home.

But the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) says it hasn't found any evidence linking either CN Rail or Canadian Pacific Railway to the blaze.

The TSB made the conclusion in a report released Thursday after what it called "significant investigative work" that included interviewing railway employees, reviewing video footage and running a simulation test on a train. 

But Kuhanga and many other Lytton residents aren't convinced. And they're not alone. The Thompson-Nicola Regional District and the Lytton First Nation have both said they believe a train was responsible for the fire. 

CBC has reached out to both Canadian Pacific and CN for comment. 

"We acknowledge the results of the TSB investigation," CN said in a written statement. "We remain available to assist other authorities with their investigations and we will continue to work with residents of the Lytton area as they recover from this devastating fire."

Kuhanga spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off about the TSB findings and the state of Lytton. Here is part of their conversation. 

Edith, do you accept the TSB's conclusions that there just isn't any evidence that the fire was sparked by a train?

Not at all. You know, where the fire started down on the end of Fraser Street, I live on the other end — or I lived on the other end — it was right down at the train tracks. And [that's] where the fire spread along the train tracks and on that side of the street before it started jumping across, and then carried on on the train tracks across the two rivers.

How can they not say that CN was responsible? [It's] so disgusting, frustrating and upset[ting].

What the TSB's investigation says [is] that they inspected the trains, they interviewed the crews, they pulled video footage from the train that was passing, and they're not able to find evidence of that ignition. So what do you think that they failed to look at?

There are a lot of people that have worked with the rails over the years, and they can tell you lots of stories where sparks have started from fires.

So they failed to talk to the residents who've lived there for hundreds of years and know what the situation is like in hot, hot weather. And that was extremely hot weather, as we all know, three days leading up to the fire.

Freight trains are a common site in Lytton, B.C., with the railroad running directly through the Fraser Canyon town. (Matt Meuse/CBC)

In fact, it was the hottest day on record [in Canada]. It was 49[.6] C, extraordinarily hot, and there were fires all over the place ... so couldn't there have been any number of ways the fire could have started other than the train?

I don't believe so. Not where the fire actually started.

I still feel that CN is partially responsible, if not totally responsible. I feel that they have to accept some responsibility.

One thing I do know is that we're all still displaced out of Lytton 106 days later. Nobody is accepting the responsibility. And we have no end in sight.

I'm very concerned about a lot of our seniors. That was the older population that lived right downtown in the village of Lytton. What is going to happen to them? Are they going to be able to see their homes rebuilt? You know, many of them are 75-, 80-, 85-years-old. And so every day that is wasted is a day stolen from them

The images of Lytton after the fire, these are pictures seen around the world. It's just extraordinary to look at that for anybody. I can't imagine what it was like to have your own house lost there. What's left now? You've visited. What can you actually see in Lytton?

There's still a lot of rubble. There's still a lot of the cement structures that are there that are still standing. In the house that I lived in, there's the oil tank, part of the fence is still there, [and] some of the trees are growing. The cement foundation is somewhat still there.

But nothing, really. I mean, you know, all of it is basically rubble.

We really want to get in there. We want to have access to our properties. And we still don't have the freedom to be able to get into the properties. And we want to get started on rebuilding. We want to be involved. We asked mayor and council last night to please involve the residents.

We're sitting on the sidelines. And yet many of the people that were retired living in Lytton are professionals ... and they could be utilizing all of that expertise, and they're not. And so it's frustrating. And I believe that the provincial and federal governments now have to step in and they have to get some action happening.

You mentioned how [the RCMP and B.C. Wildfire Service] are still investigating this and they believe the fire was human caused. There could be criminal charges coming from that. So what difference would it make to actually say that it was a train?

[It would make] a difference as to who would be accountable and who would be responsible for footing the bill in terms of rebuilding. And now TSB is saying that the rail is not involved and has no linkage, we'll see what the court case, you know, the civil actions, the litigation coming forward, [will find]. But that could drag on for years and years, right?

Time is of the essence, especially for seniors, and I just want to see some action happening. Our mayor and council don't have the capacity. They still have not distributed $30,000 in gift cards that were donated by businesses and the public. How are they going to actually get involved in rebuilding Lytton?

Does it worry you that without knowing the effects of trains going through communities, given how we're going to have hot days like this, we're going to have these kinds of conditions, that there isn't a more thorough study as to what the trains might do? That Lytton might not be the first and last?

TSB [and] the Ministry of Transportation and that all came out early on after the fire and made some recommendations or some policy changes about the way that trains should be acting in hot weather. And so hopefully that'll make some procedural changes during really hot days.

But yes, we are not going to be the last community. 

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from CBC British Columbia. Interview produced by Chris Harbord. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

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