Canadian News Oct 16, 2021 7:52 PM EST

Transportation Safety Board rules out railway as cause of Lytton fire

The TSB nipped speculation about the cause of the Lytton, BC wildfire in the bud when it refuted that the railway passing through the town bared some responsibility for the destructive blaze.

Transportation Safety Board rules out railway as cause of Lytton fire
Adam Dobrer Vancouver

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) nipped speculation about the cause of the Lytton, BC wildfire in the bud when it refuted that the railway passing through the town bared some responsibility for the destructive blaze. Published Thursday morning, its investigation found no conclusive evidence that showed that train or rail operations started the fire, said James Carmichael, the TSB's Investigator-in-Charge.

The TSB wrote that a westbound Canadian Pacific train operated by a crew from Canadian National Rail was the last train to pass through the village before the fire broke out and was in the area around the suspected origin of the fire 18 minutes before the initial reports.

Investigators found no evidence of rail grinding or other track work and noted no fire damage on the train. A safety inspection conducted by Transport Canada and interviews with employees in the area did not turn up anything of significance. "Therefore, unless new information establishes that a TSB reportable event occurred, no further work will be performed, and no TSB investigation report will be produced," the board wrote.

TSB Chairwoman Kathy Fox said in a presser Thursday that the emergence of new evidence could reopen the investigation, but that "for now, that's where our mandate ends." The case could be reopened, Chairwoman Kathy Fox said in a news conference Thursday, if anyone brings forward enough compelling evidence, but for now, "that's where our mandate ends."

The local tribal council expressed disappointment with the investigation. "The government of Canada promised me that we would have boots on the ground in the investigation process, and they left us and went out and did the investigation without honouring that," said Chief Matt Pasco of the Nlaka'pamux Nation Tribal Council.

The devastating June wildfire that ravaged Lytton, BC, caused $78-million in damage. The Insurance Bureau of Canada said that they received about 300 claims concerning predominantly residential properties.

The fire engulfed the community on June 30 during a record-breaking heatwave in the region. Two people died, while thousands of other residents had only minutes to abandon their homes. Temperatures in Lytton reached 49.6 C the day before the fire started, setting a national record. According to the province's Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth, one of the wildfires spanned nearly 90 square kilometres.

A woman who lost her home and business in the fire filed a proposed class-action lawsuit over the summer while the investigation was underway. She argued two Canadian railway companies bared partial responsible for their destruction.

Another resident, Dean Adams, returned briefly to his home and property. "It's just destroyed," he said. "There's nothing left. Not even a wrench or a tool that's survivable."

Pierre Quevillon also lost his home and narrowly escaped the flames. His dogs did not make it. "When I turned my head around, I could see all that smoke and flame coming towards me," he recalled. Unable to move his vehicle, Quevillon says he only escaped because a driver picked him up as they fled the fire.

Jackie Tegart, the MLA for Fraser-Nicola, says residents will be disappointed by the TSB report. Tegart also says that people are anxious to get into recovery mode.

"Lytton is still behind fences and security. People still don't have full access to their properties, and we are 106 days in since the fire," she said. "Residents have been scattered across the province, and they are anxious to come home."

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