Investigators have not found any evidence that trains running near the village of Lytton, B.C., were responsible for the catastrophic fire that engulfed the community and killed two people in June, the Transportation Safety Board has announced.
The findings released Thursday refute residents’ allegations that passing trains with CN or CP rail started the fire. Locals have said they believed sparks flying from the railway likely ignited bone-dry terrain, made prone to fire by an extreme heat wave that week.
After months of “significant investigative work,” the board said its team didn’t find a connection.
“The TSB investigation has not revealed any evidence to link railway operations to the fire,” read a statement.
Hundreds of people living in and around the village of Lytton, perched in the Fraser Canyon mountain range northeast of Vancouver, were forced to leave with little notice on June 30 as the fire raced through the community.
They fled as smoke and flames, spread by extreme wind, consumed the village. Two people died.
Fire started west of CN Rail line
The fire started near the CN Rail line west of the village core, according to the TSB. A westbound CP coal train operated by CN crews was the last train to pass through the area, 18 minutes before the first reports of a fire.
“In light of the presence of rolling stock in the immediate vicinity of the fire within minutes of the fire first being reported, the TSB had reasonable grounds to believe that there was a situation or condition that could induce an accident or incident,” the statement read, using the term “rolling stock” to refer to the railway cars.
TSB investigators dispatched in July examined the train, interviewed railway employees and reviewed videos and data recorders on board, but didn’t find any “anomalies.” The report said officials also tested three cars from the train, simulating the train running with a full load, and didn’t find any “sparking.”
The village had endured three days of extreme temperatures in the days before the fire, hitting a high 49.6 C as a heat wave baked Western Canada. The earth and vegetation in town was parched and vulnerable to fire, locals said.
The majority of buildings in town were reduced to ash. Residents and families who toured the aftermath by bus in July saw only scorched frames remaining of their cars and homes, if there was anything left to see at all.
More than 100 days later, residents have lamented sluggish recovery efforts and meagre communication from local governments responsible for rebuilding the village. Nearly 800 residents registered with B.C. Emergency Support Services in the aftermath, in addition to nearly another 500 people from the Lytton First Nation.
Lawsuit ongoing against CN, CP
A proposed class-action lawsuit filed in August on behalf of those who lost their homes or businesses in the village alleged CP and CN caused or contributed to the fire.
The allegations have not been proven in court and neither rail company had filed a statement of defence as of Thursday.
The safety board sent investigators to the area in July to investigate any potential link to trains.
Canadian Pacific Railway said in a statement in July that it found nothing to indicate that any of its trains or equipment that passed through Lytton caused or contributed to the fire, while Canadian National said video footage posted on social media after the fire was not connected to Lytton.
The findings released Thursday bring an end to the TSB’s investigation unless new information emerges; the board would only be involved if trains could be linked to the fire, the statement said.
The BC Wildfire Service is still continuing its own investigation. The RCMP are conducting a preliminary inquiry to determine whether a parallel criminal investigation is necessary.