Fire that Destroyed Lytton not linked to Train

Damaged structures are seen in Lytton, B.C., on Friday, July 9, 2021, after a fire destroyed most of the village on June 30. (Darryl Dyck / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Suspicions that a train was at least partially to blame for a fire that consumed most of a B.C. village this summer have been shut down in a just-published report.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada made the results of its investigation public Thursday morning.

Despite the belief that the fire may have been tied to the railway that passes through Lytton, the TSB's investigation found no link to railway operations.

In an outline of its investigation, the board wrote that a westbound Canadian Pacific (CP) train, operated by a crew from Canadian National (CN), was the last train to pass through the small Interior village before the fire broke out.

That train went through the area believed to be the fire's origin 18 minutes before the fire was reported. But there have been no reports of anything that may have caused a fire, the TSB said.

No rail grinding or other track work took place in the area in the days before the fire, and no fire damage was noted on the train, which was held in Metro Vancouver until it was inspected.

A safety inspection conducted by Transport Canada at the request of the RCMP didn't turn up anything of significance, nor did interviews with employees who'd been working in the area. Video from the train did not show any anomalies either, TSB investigators said.

Investigators also tried to obtain satellite images, but weren't able to access anything taken around the time the train passed through Lytton.

"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 board wrote.


Members of the board did not say what they believe caused the fire, which is still under investigation by the RCMP and BC Wildfire Service.

The TSB was tasked with investigating whether a railway passing through the village had any connection to the fire, which followed days of record-breaking heat.

The temperature reached 49.6 C the day before the fire started, prompting the evacuation of the entire village. It was a record not only for Lytton but for the entire country.

The investigation was launched after evidence from the RCMP and BC Wildfire Service suggested the fire may have been sparked by a train.

It is unclear what that evidence may have been, though the RCMP said previously it was investigating two possible points of origin, and that one was a parking lot near a rail bridge in the village. 

The other, Mounties said back in July, was a site in Boston Bar. No further details were given on why the community about a half-hour drive away was considered a possible origin site.


Nothing has been confirmed about the evidence that may have hinted at railway connections, but a witness told CTV News he'd captured video of what he believed to be a rail cart full of lumber on fire, and a bridge that appeared to be on fire, about 10 to 15 kilometres away that day. 

The video was not mentioned in the TSB report, but CN Rail responded to it after it was posted on social media. CN said the video did not show a train in or near Lytton at the time of the fire, and that the smoke came from a different fire, about 45 kilometres south, which was already burning. 


Before anything was determined, the chairwoman of the board said even if there was no connection, the case was a "wake-up call."

Speaking to The Canadian Press in July, Kathy Fox said it may prompt railway companies to look into what precautions are needed, especially during times of extreme heat and dry conditions. 

She said the board would first work to determine what happened before taking any action or making recommendations, but that those recommendations could include increased surveillance and clearing of right of ways.

Given the results of the report, it seems no recommendations will be given.

Still, in the days after the fire the federal transportation ministry ordered CN and CP to step up fire-prevention efforts.

CN and CP must ensure a 60-minute response time to any fires detected along rail lines running through Lytton, then-minister Omar Alghabra said in a statement on July 11. 

He pledged the federal government would support those affected by B.C.'s wildfires as well as the one in Lytton.

According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, the fire caused about $78 million in insured property damage.

Without waiting for the results of the investigation, a woman who lost her home and business in the Lytton fire filed a proposed class action lawsuit over the summer, arguing two Canadian railway companies were at least partially responsible for it. 

Stories out of the town of residents who lost everything, pets and livestock left behind and two human lives lost made an impact on those living elsewhere in B.C., and strangers stepped forward to do what they could.

People volunteered their homes, helped at centres set up to house evacuees, offered supplies for new homes and even, in the case of a nine-year-old, sold lemonade and offered up the proceeds.


With files from CTV News Vancouver