Wildfire that decimated B.C. town was likely human-caused, says official

The B.C. Wildfire Service says the fire that burned through Lytton, B.C., last week, resulting in two deaths, was likely human-caused. 

Fire information officer Erika Berg said Sunday the wildfire service suspects the fire came from within the Village of Lytton. 

“The specific cause of the Lytton Creek wildfire remains under investigation by both the RCMP as well as our fire origin cause investigators,” Berg said.

“It is suspected to be human-caused, but that specific cause remains to be determined.”

The fire is currently under the jurisdiction of the Lytton fire brigade, she said. 

The fire began Wednesday after Lytton, about 150 kilometres northeast of Vancouver, recorded the highest temperature ever seen in Canada on three consecutive days, topping out at 49.6 C on Tuesday as an unprecedented heat wave scorched Western Canada.

There are now more than 180 active fires in the province. On Monday, more than 100 out-of-province fire crews will arrive to assist.

90 per cent of village gone

More than 1,000 people fled Lytton and the surrounding area Wednesday. 

The province said Thursday the loss includes “most homes” and structures in the village, as well as the local ambulance station and RCMP detachment. The local member of parliament said 90 per cent of the village is gone.

Two vehicles incinerated in Wednesday’s fire that engulfed Lytton, B.C. (Jon Mundall)

Berg said the majority of fires at the beginning of the fire season in B.C. are caused by humans rather than lightning.

Some common culprits, depending on conditions, include unattended campfires, sparks from power tools and machinery, and weak infrastructure like power lines. 

Later in the summer, as conditions get drier, fires tend to be caused more by natural factors like lightning. 

Sparks from trains can also cause fires, Berg said.

There has been some speculation among witnesses that the fire was caused by a passing train.

In response to a query from CBC News, Mathieu Gaudreault,a spokesperson for CN Rail, did not confirm reports that a rail car was seen carrying burning cargo through the area before the fire.

“We want to offer our support to the people of Lytton and we are committed to assisting this community during this tragic event. CN is cooperating fully and will provide all information that may assist with the investigation,” he wrote in an email.

A spokesperson for the Transportation Safety Board of Canada said Sunday that it has not received any reports from railway companies relating to the fire. The TSB oversees safety in aviation, rail, marine and pipeline industries.

Berg said it could be months before investigators determine the exact cause of the fire.

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