As the investigation into the deadly wildfire that destroyed the majority of Lytton, B.C., gears up, the possibility that a passing train may have sparked the blaze is facing growing scrutiny.
The Lytton First Nation and Thompson-Nicola Regional District have both suggested the possibility, and at least one eyewitness has told Global News they saw a train braking in the community not long before the fire.
Now, two more witnesses have come forward with with accounts of trains in flames the same day fire swept into the community.
Ryan Marander says he was driving through Lytton between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. when he saw flames under a train in the community.
“We saw a train up on a trestle which was kind of in between the freeway and Lytton, and the train was stopped and underneath one of the flat deck cars, which looked like it was carrying lumber wrapped lumber, we saw fire underneath one of the cars looked to be maybe four feet in diameter or something at the base,” he said.
Marander said there appeared to be a fire department pickup truck on scene and a woman walking towards the fire. Thinking the situation was under control, he said, he drove on.
Gary Phelps told Global News he was just outside the Fraser Canyon community of Boston Bar — about 44 kilometres south of Lytton — on his way home from a holiday when his wife spotted a fire under the train on the train tracks the same day.
The couple called 911 and drove into Boston Bar to try and alert firefighters, but couldn’t find anyone so returned to the scene to direct first responders.
“By the time I got back to the scene two or three minutes later it was fully engulfed, the grass was on fire, the trees were on fire, the train was catching on fire,” he said.
Phelps said the train that caught fire was southbound, meaning it had come from the direction of Lytton.
“I’m surprised nobody got out and hit it with a fire extinguisher or did something from the train,” he said.
“When we went by originally it was a very small fire, and by the time we got back it was fully engulfed.”
Phelps said officials with CN Rail and a crew from the Boston Bar fire department arrived before he left the scene.
Crews were able to put the fire out before it spread beyond the immediate area.
The BC Wildfire Service and other investigating agencies have not speculated on the potential cause of the destructive fire.
Federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said Saturday it was too early to say what started the fire, but that investigators weren’t ruling anything out.
“We are investigating all possibilities, I don’t want to speculate on cause,” he said.
“But I did have a conversation today with the Minister of Transport … and we talked about the potential that the movement of rail traffic through these very dry and potentially very dangerous areas could have, and Transport Canada is now working with B.C. officials and the rail companies to address concerns that have been raised.”
In a statement, CN Rail offered its support to the people of Lytton.
“We are committed to assisting the community and Lytton First Nation,” the company said.
“CN will offer its full assistance to help authorities identify the causes of this tragic incident.”
CP Rail has said it will also fully cooperate with investigators as needed.
RCMP, forensics teams and the BC Coroners Service only gained access to the devastated community on Saturday, due to toxic smoke and other hazards.
Coroners confirmed two fatalities Saturday evening, and police are expected to conduct a grid search of the community Sunday and into next week.
Boston Bar was also busy with CN teams on Saturday, including a mobile command post deployed by the rail company.