The first salvo in the ‘blame game’ around Lytton, B.C. wildfire is out of the gateWritten by David C. Lester, Editor-in-Chief
The "blame game" around the recent wildfire at Lytton, B.C. has started.
Last week, RT&S reported that authorities in Canada suggested that the recent Lytton, B.C. wildfire could have been started by sparks from a passing train. The Transportation Safety Board of Canada issued a new statement on June 15, and Canadian Pacific responded to that statement on Friday. CP’s response is reproduced below. It’s a bit long, but provides important information regarding the statements by both the TSB and CP.
CP response to TSB statement
Canadian Pacific [July 16] issued the following statement on the Transportation Safety Board of Canada’s (“TSB”) rail transportation safety investigation (R21V0143) update concerning the fire in Lytton, B.C.:
The TSB posted an update yesterday regarding its investigation of “potential train activity-related fire” in the vicinity of Mile 98.3 of Canadian National (CN) Ashcroft Subdivision around the time of the wildfire in Lytton, B.C. on June 30, 2021.
The TSB said that “at approximately 16:50 Pacific Daylight Time (PDT), smoke was spotted on the nearby hills around the pedestrian bridge which parallels the Canadian National (CN) bridge at Lytton, B.C.” According to the update, TSB deployed an investigation team on July 9, 2021 to gather information and assess. In a statement given to the Canadian Press, TSB Chair Kathy Fox said that a full TSB report on any train-related cause or contributing factors in connection to the Lytton fire could take up to two years. Clearly, at this preliminary stage, any conclusions or speculation regarding any cause of the Lytton fire or contribution factor is premature.
Additionally, Chair Fox is reported to have stated that it “is certainly a wake-up call to really look at what precautions need to be taken by railway companies…” In light of the early stage of this TSB investigation, we believe it is irresponsible and misleading for the Chair of the TSB to imply that railways are to blame for the fire.
To the best of CP’s knowledge, the last train that passed through Lytton on CN’s Ashcroft Subdivision before the fire started was a CN train known to CP as CN 731L. To clarify, while this train is CP equipment, with CP locomotives and railcars, it was transferred to the care, custody and control of CN at Kamloops in the morning of June 30, 2021, and was being operated by CN, using CP’s locomotives, over CN’s own tracks on the Ashcroft Subdivision. Transport Canada inspected that train on July 6 and confirmed in a letter dated July 7 that there were “no non-compliance or concerns” in relation to that train.
CP confirms that it has also inspected that train, as well as all other CP trains that went through the town of Lytton during the relevant time period on June 30 when we understand the fire started. Based on our review of train records, including contemporaneous video footage, CP has found nothing to indicate that any of CP’s trains or equipment that passed through Lytton caused or contributed to the fire.
A review of the key facts confirms that railways are not a significant cause of wildfires in B.C., contrary to media and government speculation. The vast majority of wildfires are caused by nature when environmental conditions are extremely hot and dry, like those recently experienced in B.C.
Reducing the risk of wildfires
Rail infrastructure is essential to Canada’s national supply chain, depended upon by Canadians each day to deliver essential goods to their communities and to move Canadian exports to international markets. CP has dedicated professionals who continually assess wildfire risk in close proximity to our track network. CP works in close collaboration with government agencies, including the B.C. Wildfire Service, to share information on wildfire activity and risk.
On an ongoing basis:
- CP has a robust vegetation management plan to limit vegetation growth on its right-of-way and in yards.
- CP clears trees and brush in proximity to the right-of-way to prevent the vegetation encroachment and mitigate fire risk.
- CP soaks the track and surrounding vicinity with water to mitigate fire risk when undertaking railhead grinding, a critically important activity to maintain safe railway infrastructure.
- During periods of extreme temperatures, CP increases the frequency of track inspections and reduces train speeds or halts traffic (determined by conditions) to maintain a safe rail infrastructure to support train operations.
In response to the Lytton wildfire, CP has taken additional actions. To avoid adversely impacting local, provincial or national emergency response assets, CP deployed additional emergency response assets to the area, including:
- Two water trucks (1000 gallons and 500 gallons) and manpower stationed on standby on CP’s right-of-way at Lytton
- 24/7 on-call supervisors stationed at Spences Bridge to respond quickly to any reports of fire along the right-of-way
- A grinder staged in North Bend with a tank that can store water with a capacity of up to 4500 gallons
- A hi-rail support vehicle with a 250 gallon water tank
- Two high capacity (2800 gal) high rail water trucks in Kamloops
- Firefighting resources on standby
- Donation of a large water bladder (5000 gal) with fire pump/hose connections to Cooks Ferry First Nation to assist their efforts
Supporting the Lytton community’s recovery
CP has pledged $1 million to support wildfire recovery efforts in Lytton. As part of that, CP is in the process of assisting the village in acquiring emergency communications and computer equipment. CP also has offered to work directly with the Village of Lytton, Lytton First Nation, Thompson-Nicola Regional District and other agencies to provide resources and logistics support in the development of temporary housing facilities for families that have been displaced. Additionally, donations from CP employees are being matched to the Canadian Red Cross to aid in relief efforts.