A wildfire in Lytton, BC, during historically high temperatures points to a serious need to prevent similar events, says the chair of the Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the possibility that a freight train could have been linked to the disaster.

Kathy Fox said an update on the investigation will be provided in the next few days, but a full report on any factors contributing to the June 30 inferno that forced residents to flee could take up to two years.

Rail activity that sets something on the right of way on fire can have dire consequences, he said.

“So I think this is definitely a wake-up call to really look at the precautions that rail companies need to take, especially when operating in extreme temperatures and in areas that are already dry and can increase a lot of ignition,” said Fox. .

The safety board’s investigation was launched after evidence provided by the RCMP and the BC Wildfire Service suggested that the fire that killed two people may have been caused by a train. The board is also investigating another Sparwood fire that involved a train following a report from another train crew and a nearby bush fire, Fox said.

Fox said 100 fires were reported from rail operations in 2019 and 76 in 2020.

He said the board would work to determine the underlying causes of the Lytton fire before considering any safety deficiencies that need to be addressed, even if more monitoring of trains and locomotives is needed, as well as clearing of rights-of-way.

“At the end of the day, you have to see how you prevent a train fire from starting or how you prevent a train from dumping combustible materials that then ignite a fire, and what you can do to mitigate through observation,” Fox said.

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That could also involve more inspections and limits or restrictions on operating conditions during periods of extreme heat in areas that are at risk from wildfires, he said of the village where the temperature hit a Canadian record 49.6 C the day before it broke out. the forest fire.

Transport Canada said rail companies are legally responsible for the safety of their infrastructure, equipment and operations.

“This includes ongoing inspection, testing and maintenance programs in accordance with regulatory requirements, as well as any particular operational and environmental conditions.”

Canadian Pacific Railway, which, along with the Canadian National Railway, has a route through Lytton, resumed service about a week after the fire, prompting Matt Pasco, president of the Nlaka’pamux National Tribal Council, to say that the operations should have stopped during the drought. terms.

CN Rail has said that one of its trains shown in a video circulating on social media suggests it was linked to the Lytton fire and that the nearby First Nation had passed hours before the wildfire started and that smoke in the video came from a different fire. .

CN spokesman Mathieu Gaudreault said current safety protocols include monitoring trains passing by employees in the field for potential fire hazards, as well as clearing vegetation along the right of way. of the railroad.

“In addition, we are increasing the patrols that precede and follow trains,” he said in a statement. “These patrols are equipped with firefighting equipment and constantly monitor for any signs of fire risk.”

Andy Cummings, a spokesman for CP Rail, said the railroad is closely monitoring conditions throughout its network to maintain safe operations.

“CP increases periodic inspections of locomotives and other equipment during periods of extreme conditions,” it said in a statement. “CP has an emergency response team that includes tanker trucks that can operate on highways and railroads and are located in our BC corridor.”

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Fox said railroads are responsible for keeping their right-of-way clear of obstacles that could impede visibility or be a source of fire as part of the regulations overseen by Transport Canada, but maintenance along the tracks is a “matter. complex “involving the jurisdiction of the owners. , including municipalities or provincial governments.

Federal Minister of Transportation Omar Alghabra has ordered Canada’s two main rail operators to take various measures in preventing fires along their lines, as the heat, along with the dry conditions, burns BC

However, Fox said it can be difficult for crews to even know that a train has started a fire.

Many freight and passenger trains are equipped with forward-facing video cameras, and in some cases, if they have a running locomotive, a rear-facing camera can also be installed.

“It really depends on what type of car it is and which direction it is facing,” Fox said. “For example, you could have a locomotive at the end of the train that has a camera, but if the locomotive is turned the other way, obviously not will capture anything behind the train. “

Increased traction while a train accelerates can throw off sparks that could ignite before a fire starts, he said.

“So it’s a challenge for the railways and it’s a challenge for everyone, particularly in a situation like we have now in British Columbia, where it’s so hot and so dry and it doesn’t take much to start a fire.”

This Canadian Press report was first published on July 15, 2021.

Camille Bains, Canadian Press


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