Lytton, B.C., resident files lawsuit alleging CP, CN rail caused the fire that destroyed her village

A former Lytton, B.C., resident has filed a potential class action lawsuit against both the Canadian Pacific and Canadian National rail companies, claiming their negligence caused the fire that burned down her community. 

On June 30, a fire tore through Lytton, destroying most homes and businesses in the village and killing two people. 

Carel Moiseiwitsch lost her home, her business and her pet cat in the fire. 

According to the lawsuit filed Wednesday, Moiseiwitsch claims the fire was caused by heat or sparks from a freight train owned by CP Rail that was operated by CN Rail on tracks owned by CN Rail. 

The lawsuit, which has not yet been certified as a class action, says the defendants knew, or ought to have known, that the weather conditions in the area at the time made it unsafe for trains to operate. 

Leading up to the fire, Lytton set nationwide temperature records as it reached 49.6 C the day before the fire started.

None of the allegations have been proven in court. CBC News has reached out to both CN and CP for comment. The railways have up to 21 days to file a statement of defence.

TSB investigating

The Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the cause of the fire, as both CN and CP trains had been operating in the area when it started. A few days after the fire began, the B.C. Wildfire Service determined the fire was likely human-caused.

Residents of Lytton, B.C., watched their community go up in flames on June 30. (Edith Loring Kuhanga/Facebook)

Jason Gratl, Moiseiwitsch’s lawyer, said his team has completed its own investigation into the fire and believes it was caused by trains.

“It’s not a situation where there are other people in the vicinity who started the fire. It’s not a situation where lightning struck. It is a fire that started next to the railroad tracks,” Gratl said.

“It was highly irresponsible for CP and CN to be operating trains under those conditions.”

He said weather conditions, the train schedule, eyewitness accounts and the burn pattern near the rail tracks all lead them to believe the fire was caused by trains owned and operated by CP and CN.

Video captured by a Lytton resident fleeing the B.C. community on June 30 shows numerous structures on fire. (2 Rivers Remix Society/Vimeo)

As of Aug. 4, the Insurance Bureau of Canada said 300 claims had been made in relation to the Lytton fire, totalling around $78 million.

This isn’t the first time rail companies have been taken to court following fires; in 2015, the Ontario government sued CN rail for firefighting costs related to four separate fires in 2012. Three lawsuits were filed against the company in Manitoba in 2018, alleging its operations caused fires in 2016.

Gratl said the timeline for a class action can be anywhere from one to three years. However, he hopes this one will move quickly so the rebuilding process can begin.

“We want to send a message that there’s nothing in this lawsuit that should prevent the provincial and federal government from investing in rebuilding and revitalizing the town of Lytton and the surrounding Indigenous land.”

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