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Major train operators ordered to take new wildfire prevention measures in B.C.

Last Updated Jul 12, 2021 at 6:07 am PDT

A train track that was scorched by the wildfire that devastated the Village of Lytton. (Martin MacMahon, NEWS 1130 Photo)

New order requires CP, CN must ensure 60-minute response to any fires detected along rail lines running through Lytton

Cause of Lytton wildfire remains under investigation

Ministerial order requiring railroad operators step up fire prevention efforts remains in effect until Oct. 31

OTTAWA — Canada’s two major railroad operators are being ordered to step up their fire prevention efforts as wildfires continue to scorch British Columbia.

Federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra says the Canadian National and Canadian Pacific railways must ensure a 60-minute response time to any fires detected along rail lines running through Lytton, with the goal of extinguishing or controlling the blaze and asking the local fire service for help if necessary.

The order, which will be in effect until Oct. 31, applies to operations along the stretch of rail line between Kamloops and Boston Bar, and between Kamloops and North Bend on the Thompson and Ashcroft subdivisions.

It requires the companies “ensure that any vegetation control measures are followed by removal of combustible materials,” and also calls for at least 10 fire detection patrols every 24 hours on stretches of track that run through Lytton.

“Unprecedented weather conditions in British Columbia continue to pose a serious threat to public safety and railway operations,” said Alghabra. “The Government of Canada remains committed to supporting those affected by the devastating wildfires in British Columbia and will not hesitate to take any safety actions that are necessary to mitigate these risks to public safety and the integrity of railway tracks and infrastructure.”

The order makes conductors responsible for spotting and reporting fires on those lines.

“CN and CP must consult with Indigenous governments or other Indigenous governing bodies located along the Subdivisions to incorporate considerations of Indigenous knowledge related to the presence of fire hazards, fire risk and control of fires into the preparation of Fire Hazard Reduction Plans and the Fire Preparedness Plans required under the Prevention and Control of Fires on Line Works Regulations,” a release adds.

90 per cent of the village of Lytton has been destroyed by a fast-moving wildfire, according to the local MP. The community was evacuated on June 30. (Submitted)

The ministerial order comes after the Transportation Safety Board launched an investigation as a result of new information on the suspected source of a devastating wildfire that raced through the village in B.C.’s Fraser Canyon on June 30.

The board said Friday the information came by way of probes by the RCMP and BC Wildfire Service into the cause of a blaze that destroyed much of the village and killed two people, though no cause has been disclosed.

While the ministerial order makes specific mention of Lytton and stretches of rail line within B.C., it also calls on CN and CP to take extra measures anywhere in Canada when the temperature hits 30 to 32 degrees and when the fire danger level for areas trains are passing through reach “extreme.”

“Class 1 railways (Canada’s largest railways) must ensure train speeds are reduced to 25 mph where permitted track speed is between 26 mph and 35 mph and by 10 mph if track speed is 36 mph or greater,” a release reads.

Trains that are operating in areas where the fire danger rating is “extreme” can only do so if they’ve been inspected in the 15 days before to ensure its “exhaust passages are clear of combustible material.”

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CN Rail has said its trains were not linked to the fire and CP resumed its service through Lytton on Monday.

In a statement sent to NEWS 1130 on July 1, CN Rail said the safety of locals was the top priority, after its systems were shut down by the fire.

“The events occurring in Lytton are deeply distressing and we at CN are very concerned for the safety of residents and the impacts of this devastating fire,” the statement reads. “We have reached out to local elected officials to offer our assistance. We want to offer our support to the people of the First Nation of Lytton and we are committed in assisting this community during this tragic event.”

In that same email, CN addressed reports that the fire may have been caused by a train, saying “the initial review of our operations is that protocols were followed. CN will offer its full assistance to help authorities identify the causes of this tragic incident.”