RCMP not ruling out criminal charges as it investigates cause of Lytton fire

The BC RCMP says it could take years for the investigation into the cause of the Lytton fire to reach the point where police can determine if charges are warranted.

Two people died when a blaze roared through town on Wednesday, June 30, devouring everything in its path. Preliminary financial damage estimates are in the millions.

The investigation, led by the BC Wildfire Service and RCMP, is in its very early stages but points to human activity as the likely cause of the fire.

“Our goal is to let the evidence guide us, as in any investigation, and whatever the evidence tells us, of course, that will determine our path moving forward,” said S/Sgt. Janelle Shoihet when asked about the possibility of criminal charges.

Video posted online shows a train on fire in the area the afternoon the day the inferno destroyed the town but investigators have not confirmed if it played any role in igniting the deadly blaze.

“The question is cause and effect, right? So, the train on fire, is that a result of the fire already being started in Lytton? Or, was the train on fire what started the fire?” Shoihet said. “I mean that investigation is the chicken or the egg."

Regardless of the outcome of the investigation, displaced Lytton resident Cathy Bilechuk, who lost everything in the fire, is angry more precautions weren’t taken given the extreme heat.

“I don’t understand why the trains were allowed to run,” she told CTV News.

In Lytton, the three days prior to the fire each broke the all-time Canadian temperature record, with the heat peaking at 49.6 degrees Celcius on Tuesday.

“CN is cooperating fully and will provide all information that may assist with the investigation,” the railway said in a statement. “We want to offer our support to the people of Lytton and we are committed to assisting this community during this tragic event.”

The Transportation Safety Board is not currently part of the investigation but said it is ready to participate if call upon.

“To date, the TSB has not received any reports from CP or CN and therefore are not deploying or investigating at this time,” the agency said in an email to CTV News.

Canada’s Railway Safety Act outlines how railways could be financially responsible if an investigation determines a destructive fire was caused by train activity.

A runaway train of fuel cars crashed into the town of Lac-Mégantic, Que. in 2013 – igniting an inferno that claimed 47 lives.

Three employees of the United States-based Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway were each charged with 47 counts of criminal negligence causing death.

A jury acquitted the thee men after nine days of deliberations.

Due to hazardous conditions in Lytton, investigators have only been able to spend a couple of hours per day on the ground.

Even when they get better access, it will be a long time before they’ve gathered enough information to determine what sparked the fire, if the train was involved, and if any people or companies bear criminal responsibility for the deaths of the two people who didn’t make it out.