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First Nations leader pledges action after rail service resumes by Lytton

Nlaka’pamux Nation Tribal Council wants pause, fire disrupted movement of goods across Western Canada
A rail bridge spans the Fraser River as a wildfire burns in Lytton, B.C., on Friday, July 2, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

One of two rail companies with routes through Lytton, B.C., says it has resumed service after a wildfire devastated the village last week, a move one First Nations leader says he’s willing to do “what’s necessary” to stop.

Chief Matt Pasco, chairman of the Nlaka’pamux Nation Tribal Council based in Lytton, said the decision by Canadian Pacific Railway to allow trains in the area is creating anxiety for members already shaken by the near-complete destruction of the village in a matter of minutes.

“It’s tinder-dry, tinder-dry,” Pasco said in an interview on Tuesday. “Our governance structures are saying there should be a pause here.”

Canadian Pacific said in a statement that mainline operations resumed Monday after safety inspections were completed of the tracks and infrastructure.

The company said it is increasing inspections of its tracks and equipment during this period of extreme weather and staff are on-site supporting local authorities.

The fire disrupted critical transportation services for the movement of goods across Western Canada and the rest of the continent, CP said.

“The safety of the public and our employees is our priority and we are implementing appropriate measures,” the statement said.

Canadian National Railway said it has investigated a video circulating on social media depicting a train characterized as having caused the fire in the village of Lytton and the nearby Lytton First Nation.

In an email, CN said after examining the evidence, it has concluded the video does not show a train in or near Lytton at the time of the fire in the village.

“In fact, the video shows a train 45 kilometers south of Lytton, and the smoke seen in the video comes from a different fire that was already burning,” said Mathieu Gaudreault, a CN spokesman.

Gaudreault said the train in the video was identified by CN operations staff as Train M3551 28, originating in Prince Rupert, bound for Vancouver.

“Train M3551 28 passed uneventfully through Lytton at 1327 PDT, hours before the wildfire that destroyed Lytton was first reported.”

Pasco said any possible fire risk, including trains, should be avoided. If the transportation of goods is deemed critical, then they can be moved by trucks, he suggested.

The Lytton fire made clear that, despite everyone’s best efforts, the resources are not in place to protect residents against an aggressive blaze, he said.

Pasco said he has raised his concerns with both the premier’s office and federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller.

When asked if he was considering blocking the rail line, Pasco said he hopes conversations with relevant agencies will result in the service stopping, but he is also willing to do what’s necessary in the name of safety and has reached out to others asking them to stand in solidarity.

“I’m not here to threaten anyone or anything like that, but we take the safety of our people very seriously. I’ve reached out to others to stand with us and do right, and I suspect that sound minds will prevail,” he said.

The tribal council will use its authority to protect its people, if required, he said.

“I will use our jurisdiction to do what’s necessary to save our people and make sure they’re out of harm’s way.”

Premier John Horgan said at a news conference Tuesday after flying over the devastated community that the federal government and Transport Canada is responsible for the railways and he would leave it to them to speak on behalf of rail operations.

“I’m confident that we can find a way forward,” Horgan said.

Representatives from CN and CP are now to observe and review the damage that’s been done in the community and the site has been secured by those who are doing the investigations, he said.

“I’ll have more to say once that work is complete.”

There are more than 200 wildfires burning across British Columbia.

The BC Wildfire Service has said investigators believe the fire that tore through Lytton on June 30 was human-caused, but the investigation is ongoing.

Teck Resources Ltd., which relies on CP and CN rail service through the area, said in a statement that it is rerouting shipments from its steelmaking coal operations to the Ridley Terminals in Prince Rupert.

The company is assessing the overall impact to customer shipments and production, which will depend on the length of the rail disruption.

However, based on guidance from the railways with respect to the timeline for repairs, Teck’s third-quarter steelmaking coal sales are expected to be reduced by 300,000 to 500,000 tonnes due to the limited rail traffic flow, the statement said.

— By Amy Smart, The Canadian Press

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