Lytton First Nation Acting Chief John Haugen vented his frustration with CN Railway during an information session on Saturday, July 3.
Haugen was one of several people providing updates about the wildfires in the Thompson-Nicola Regional District (TNRD), and spoke about the situation in Lytton, where a fire that started on June 30 has destroyed 90 per cent of the town.
“What really concerns me right now is different organizations, like CN, right next to my community,” he said at the information session. “On IR 24 we still have a standing gas station on that reserve and there was a huge structure fire to the CN bridge that crosses the Thompson River.
“I actually am hoping that CN will stay out of there and not try to repair their bridge until this fire is completely out. We want them to be off-site as well and we want communication with them. They haven’t really communicated their work strategy to us. We’re just really ticked that they think they’re so super powerful that they’re going to get their economy and their trains rolling before they even talk with us.
“The destruction that we have to live with is not insurmountable, but we want to be involved in how we return to living within our community. CN is someone that has to be accountable to what’s going forward with any work they do to remediate that bridge. We want to be involved.”
Multiple sources are pointing the finger at CN, whose mainline runs through the community, saying that they saw sparks coming from a passing train at the same time the fire started. There are also reports that the fire was all through the town in a matter of minutes; one video shot by a woman who was in Lytton at the time captures her wondering aloud which direction she should take in order to get out, as fire and smoke were all around her. However, none of the allegations have been proven and RCMP said Sunday that they are investigating all avenues.
CN has said it will provide “full assistance” to help authorities identify the cause of the incident, which they describe as “tragic”. CP has said it will fully cooperate with investigators if they are asked to do so.
In July 2020, CN was found to be responsible for the Cisco Road wildfire 10km south of Lytton, which started on June 11, 2015 and destroyed 2,200 hectares. An investigation concluded that rail workers cutting a line sparked the blaze, which burned for four months and caused several evacuations. The fire danger rating in the Lytton area was “extreme” at the time.
CN was ultimately fined more than $16.6 million in damages and fines for that fire. The amount included nearly $9.4 million for the value of forest and grass land resources that were destroyed, as well as more than $6.9 million for the cost to the B.C. government to fight the fire; $169,000 to cover the cost of reforestation; a $75,000-dollar administrative penalty; and $52,000 for the value of Crown timber that burned.
Both CN and CP have been asked if they would halt trains during the extreme heatwave that has been gripping much of the province recently, but neither company has addressed the question directly. On June 29, the day before the fire, Lytton recorded a high of 49.6°C, setting a new record for hottest temperature ever recorded in Canada. It was the third day in a row that Lytton had set a new Canadian heat record.
In 2017, CN agreed to stop doing rail grinding during six weeks in July and August of that year, when temperatures are usually at their hottest in the region. The announcement came after the matter was raised by the TNRD’s Steve Rice, the director for Area “I”, which includes Lytton.
“There were four wildfires in Boston Bar and TNRD Area ‘I’ in the last couple of years, three of which were possibly caused by track grinding,” Rice said at the time. “I wanted to raise the issue, as it is getting quite scary.”