A First Nations chief from the Lytton, B.C., area says he’s deeply concerned about how long it took for federal regulators to begin investigating the possibility a train was responsible for the fire that destroyed the community.
The Transportation Safety Board of Canada said on Friday it was deploying a team to probe “a fire potentially involving a freight train.”
It came more than a week after the June 30 fire, which many residents believe was sparked by a passing freight train.
Rail crews have since been in the area, repairing tracks to allow freight carriers to resume transportation.
Matt Pasco, chairman of the Nlaka’pamux Nation Tribal Council based in Lytton, says that work, along with the length of time since the fire, could hamper investigators.
“(I’m) deeply concerned. Absolutely concerned about that,” he told Global News Morning Weekend.
On Friday, TSB chair Cathy Fox told Global News that crews had not been deployed previously because neither major rail carrier had reported a fire “occurrence,” meaning the agency did not have cause to investigate.
“We did not receive any transportation occurrence last week after the fire started last week in Lytton. And we actually reached out proactively to CP and CN to ask them early this week if there had been any kind of rail occurrence in the Lytton area, and they said no,” she said.
The regulator had since received information from the RCMP and BC Wildfire Service that prompted the deployment, she said.
The team will look at what is visible on-scene, as well as collect physical evidence, eyewitness accounts and video recordings, she said.
“Once we find out what trains or what rail traffic may have been operating in the area during that period, then we can delve into that to see if anything happened during the time those trains passed through,” Fox said.
Pasco called that approach flawed.
“You shouldn’t be waiting for those that you regulate to actually step forward (and) do any investigation of that — it’s unacceptable,” he said.
“I don’t think there was any intention on the federal government to do this investigation, seek for clarity in it, and they certainly weren’t looking at stopping the trains.”
An RCMP investigation into the fire continues, and police said last weekend they were not prepared to speculate on a possible cause.
Eyewitnesses have told Global News they saw fires on or around trains both in Lytton and about 44 kilometres south, outside Boston Bar, the day of the fire.
CN issued a statement Saturday, pledging to fully cooperate with any investigation into the Lytton fire, and adding it would not speculate on the cause.
“CN has, however, issued a statement about a train recorded on video in proximity to a different fire, some 45 (kilometres) south of Lytton, in Boston Bar, stating it is confident the CN train in the video was at no point ablaze, and was not the cause of that fire,” a spokesperson said.
Global News has requested comment from CP Rail.
Both rail companies have previously pledged to cooperate with any investigation, and both have pledged a million dollars or more to help Lytton residents.
Local First Nations had threatened to stop rail traffic through the area if the federal government did not intervene.
On Friday, Transport Canada issued an order banning rail traffic in the Lytton area for 48 hours, except for emergency fire response.