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No evidence found to connect railway activity to deadly Lytton wildfire, TSB says

Safety board says “significant” investigative work found no link between railway operations and fire
A Canadian Pacific freight train travels on tracks covered with fire retardant in an area burned by wildfire above the Thompson River near Lytton, B.C., on Sunday, August 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

The Transportation Safety Board has found no evidence linking railway activity to the fire that destroyed the village of Lytton.

“The TSB investigation has not revealed any evidence to link railway operations to the fire. 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 TSB said in a statement.

TSB chair Kathy Fox said the organization did not receive any reports of a fire from either Canadian National or Canadian Pacific Railways in the vicinity of Lytton and did not dispatch an investigator to the area until July 9 after the B.C. Wildfire Service found a “black, carbonaceous coal-like substance” on the west side of the track near Mile 98.14 of the CN Ashcroft Subdivision.

The TSB conducted laboratory analysis of the sample and compared it to samples from a locomotive exhaust stack and a rail grinder vehicle. The results found that the three samples “had little in common”.

TSB investigator James Carmichael investigated the train that was suspected to have caused the fire on July 10 after it had been secured by the RCMP and investigated by Transport Canada.

“I went down did a complete walk around the train looking for any signs of burnt break heads, hot bearings or anything that looks like it could have caused or sustained a fire,” he said. “I did not see anything that jumped out at me that would put the railway operation in any way starting the fire.”

Carmichael added that both CN and CP were forthcoming with information and cooperated fully with investigators.

The fire ignited on June 30, just one day after Lytton set record temperatures of 49.4 degrees celsius. The blaze destroyed much of the town and resulted in the death of two people.

CN Rail said in a statement that they acknowledge the results of the TSB investigation and will work with the residents of Lytton to recover from the fire. CP has not yet responded to a request for comment.

In a statement to Black Press Media, the Wildfire Service said they are actively investigating the fire alongside the RCMP. They did not provide any timeline for the investigation.

“It is critical that the investigation process is afforded the time needed to ensure the investigation is thoroughly completed,” BCWS information officer Jean Strong said.

The RCMP released a statement saying “significant progress” has been made in their investigation to assess possible criminality, but did not share any information on what evidence they have collected. The RCMP does not have a timeline on how much longer the investigation will take.

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