In a report released Thursday, the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) concluded there was no “definitive connection” between railway operations and the blaze that forced roughly 300 residents to evacuate the southern B.C. village on June 30.
“I think I can speak on behalf of all Lyttonites that there’s a lot of disbelief and anger at this finding,” said Kevin Loring, who was born and raised in Lytton and lost his family home in the fire.
“There are eye witnesses who saw the train that started the fire.”
The blaze killed two people, injured others, and destroyed roughly 90 per cent of the town’s infrastructure.
It began after several days of record-breaking heat in Lytton, in an area where locals know train passage has sparked fires before.
According to the TSB report a Canadian Pacific coal train with 157 cars passed through Lytton 18 minutes before the fire was first reported, in the suspected area of the fire’s origin, but no conclusive evidence was found to suggest it was the cause.
Pressed by journalists, the TSB confirmed it did not conduct any “direct interviews” with Lytton residents during its investigation, but said it did conduct “extensive” work.
“You have to wonder if they’re not captured by the industry they’re supposed to oversee,” said Loring, who now lives in Ottawa.
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“If you have eye witnesses to the account of what started the fire and you don’t interview them, how can you possibly come to the conclusion that you do?”
Loring posted a video on Twitter, shared with him by an observer, that he believes captures the coal train and the fire together.
Jade Baxter of the Skuppah Indian Band has similar questions.
“If there is no proper engagement or leadership or eye witnesses, how can we trust investigation was done properly?” she said in an interview with Global News.
“I think there is a huge gap in terms of the way the Transportation Safety Board engaged with communities, specifically the Indigenous community directly affected by this.”
Baxter lost her apartment in Lytton to the fire, and has since been helping run an emergency operations centre in her community.
The First Nation was not briefed on the TSB’s report results prior to public release.
Edith Loring-Kuhanga, school administrator at Stein Valley Nlakapamux School in Lytton, said she too is “extremely disappointed” and “frustrated” by the TSB’s findings.
“A lot of local people actually have worked for rail over the years, and they have seen and witnessed fires themselves,” she explained. “Running the trains in that hot weather … should have never happened.”
She questioned the investigation’s thoroughness, given that no residents of Lytton were interviewed, and said she wasn’t surprised a massive “corporation” was not found to be at fault.
For the most part, the residents of Lytton remained scattered in hotels and rental properties, and on the couches of friends and family.
Since the fire, they’ve decried the lack of direct communication with them from all levels of government that are working to rebuild the town and rehouse of its residents.
“This (finding) just adds another layer of frustration on top of what we’re dealing with,” said Loring-Kuhanga.
“There are so many families that are just on the edge right now and this news is a kick when we’re down,” added Loring.
The BC Wildfire Service and the RCMP are still conducting their own investigations into the fire.
Transportation Safety Board chair Kathy Fox said Thursday, the board would reopen its investigation if it receives “new information that is convincing that links railway operations to the Lytton fire.”