Rail companies started 15 fires in 2019, face more than $200K in costs, fines | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Rail companies started 15 fires in 2019, face more than $200K in costs, fines


Rail companies caused 15 wildfires in 2019 and now they have to pay the bill.

CN and CP Rail were collectively fined more than $200,000, most of that in costs to fight the fires, but also includes a $30,000 penalty for CN for "deliberate" negligence in allowing a train to keep running after it already started four fires.

Anyone caught starting a wildfire in B.C. is liable to cover firefighting costs and the rail companies are no different. The fees and decisions from 2019 were only disclosed this summer. 

The highest cost from a single fire was near Juniper Beach, west of Kamloops, totaling $38,000. 22 people alerted the B.C. Wildfire Service to the blaze on Aug. 26, 2019, and eventually grew to 41 hectares before it was finally declared out on Sept. 10.

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Although it took two days in mop up, a wildfire investigator determined that a passing train's exhaust caused the blaze.

That fire was among eight fires from Kamloops to Lytton, along with another in the East Kootenay region, costing CP a total of $126,400. Investigators either found direct evidence attributed to railway operations or ruled out all possible options, leaving them with a passing train as the only possibility.

Near Quesnel, five wildfires were attributed to CN train 571 within a four-day period, leading to an additional $30,000 penalty for the company's negligence.

A fire investigator found a passing train was sending sparks into the nearby brush, causing four fires on April 12.

Railway employees helped suppress at least one of the fires that day, but on April 16, the same train travelled through Quesnel and started another fire.

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Although the combined size of the five wildfires was only 1.7 hectares, the fact it was repeated drew criticism from the wildfire investigator.

"There is evidence provided to me that suggests that these contraventions were deliberate," the fire investigator's report reads. "It does not appear that CNR did anything to prevent the same northbound train... from starting more wildfires."

The report continues to say there is "no direct evidence" CN benefitted from "the contraventions," but it notes that CN should have been aware that train 571 started four fires and continued to use the train anyway.

The province charged CN $24,700 in fire control costs, adding another $30,000 in an administrative penalty for its negligence.

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CN Rail has been found responsible for 45 wildfires from 2013 to 2017, with 15 decisions made against the company from 2010 to 2019, according to one of the reports.

Aside from the $30,000 penalty, the province charged CN and CP a combined $175,788.97 in fire control costs from 2019. The reports were issued in 2022.

The bulk of those fees comes from hourly wages for wildfire service employees, but can include equipment and fuel costs, contracted services, accomodation, and food for employees.

Both CN and CP refused to take an opportunity to dispute the findings from the fire investigators.

Last year, the Transportation Safety Board issued a final report on the wildfire that burned down the village of Lytton.

The investigation targeted links to rail companies through the area on June 30, 2021. It found no evidence that sparks or overheated bearings were the cause of the devastating blaze that wiped out homes and killed two people, according to the Transportation Safety Board.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Levi Landry or call 250-819-3723 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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