Evacuee from fire-ravaged Lytton, B.C., files lawsuit against railways
A woman who lost her home and business in the devastating fire that devoured Lytton, B.C., this summer has filed a lawsuit arguing two Canadian railway companies were at least partially responsible for the blaze.
Carel Moiseiwitsch's claim, filed Wednesday in B.C. Supreme Court, alleges Canadian Pacific Railway and Canadian National Railway "caused or contributed" to the fire that razed most of the village on June 30.
Moiseiwitsch's three-bedroom home, where she operated an IT and graphic design company, was among the properties lost.
“We didn’t realize how fast (the fire) was going and we didn’t realize that the whole town was going to be consumed,” she said Wednesday.
According to the proposed class-action lawsuit, the blaze was not related to other fires burning in the area, but rather began as a result of "heat and/or spark emanating from a freight train" that was owned by CP Rail and operated by CN Rail.
"The Lytton fire was not caused by the forest fire or the Boston Bar fire or a lightning strike. The burn area of the Lytton fire does not overlap with the area of the forest fire or the Boston Bar fire," it reads.
The lawsuit argues the record-breaking temperatures registered in Lytton in the days leading up to the fire – including a sweltering 49.6 C recorded on June 29 – left it unsafe to operate trains.
One of Moiseiwisch’s lawyers, Jason Gratl, told CTV News:
“We are reasonably confident that the eyewitness, train schedule, and burn pattern evidence converge on the conclusion that a CP train operated by CN personnel on CN tracks caused the Lytton fire.”
None of the allegations in Moiseiwitsch's lawsuit have been proven in court, and neither CP Rail nor CN Rail has filed a statement of defence in the suit. Both previously denied they had anything to do with the blaze.
In a statement, a spokesperson for CP declined to comment on the civil filing and told CTV News “any conclusions or speculation regarding any cause … remains premature.”
Spokesperson Salem Woodrow pointed to a previously issued statement that read, in part:
“Based on our review of train records, including contemporaneous video footage, CP has found nothing to indicate that any of CP's trains or equipment that passed through Lytton caused or contributed to the fire.”
CN told CTV News it had received the lawsuit, and the investigation into the cause remains ongoing.
Canada's Transportation Safety Board has been investigating the Lytton fire since July 9. The probe was launched after an initial investigation into the ignition point by the RCMP and B.C. Wildfire Service "raised concerns regarding the potential involvement of a freight train," according to the TSB website.
The TSB has not released a report into the incident or shared any preliminary findings. Officials said the investigation could take two years to complete.
Moiseiwitsch's lawsuit alleges the railways should have known it was unsafe to operate in the Lytton area during the heat wave, and failed to ensure there were "spark arrestors, braking, and other systems on the train that are less prone to cause fire in the vicinity of the tracks."
It also alleges there was a failure to remove brush, shrubbery and other potential fire fuel from the area around the tracks.
Moiseiwitsch is seeking financial compensation in the form of general damages for alleged negligence on the part of the defendants, as well as punitive damages and aggravated damages. Her lawsuit also asks that the court declare the fire a private and public nuisance.
She and her partner are temporarily living with family in Vancouver, and even if they rebuild their home in Lytton, she’s not sure if she wants to return.
“(The fire) was like a massive monster or something. It was all your worst nightmares,” Moiseiwitsch said.
“I think I would be too afraid (to return),” she added.