An investigation by the Transportation Safety Board has found no link between railway activity and the wildfire that destroyed most of Lytton, but Edith Loring-Kuhanga, school administrator of Stein Valley Nlakapamux School near Lytton isn’t satisfied with the report’s conclusion.
“I don’t accept the findings at all, not at all,” Loring-Kuhanga said, adding that community members claim the fire started at the end of Fraser Street by the railway tracks, spreading further along the tracks.
The TSB began investigating after the B.C. Wildfire Service found a black, carbonaceous coal-like substance on the side of the railway tracks near Lytton where investigators believe the fire started. However, laboratory analysis determined that the substance did not come from the train that was suspected of causing the fire.
Despite the findings of the TSB report, Loring-Kuhanga said CN has a responsibility to help residents of Lytton recover from the wildfire. To date, CN has provided a $100 gas allowance and a $500 Visa gift card for residents displaced from the fire. CN committed $1.5 million in immediate relief efforts to Lytton First Nation and the Village of Lytton on July 8.
Regardless of the cause of the fire, Loring-Kuhanga said there is an immediate need to rebuild and address interim housing for displaced residents.
“I’m very concerned about our senior population. A lot of elderly people lived downtown… what’s going to happen to them? As we go through this year of them being displaced all over and not connected at all to their community that they’ve been in for 40, 50, 60 years, I’m worried about their emotional, physical and mental health.”
Loring-Kuhanga voiced those concerns to the leadership of Lytton Village at a council meeting on Oct. 13. She said that leadership has been unable to distribute $30,000 in donated gift cards to evacuated Lytton residents 106 days after the fire and she questions if that same council can rebuild efficiently.
“When will the rebuild actually happen? Will our seniors actually be able to see their homes rebuilt? Will they still be alive to see that? Every day lost is a day stolen from them,” Loring-Kuhanga said, calling for the federal and provincial governments to step in.
As it stands now, the Village of Lytton has two councillors and a mayor with one council seat vacant.
Black Press Media has reached out to Lytton Mayor Jan Polderman and Fraser Basin Council senior regional manager Mike Simpson for comment.
In the wake of the wildfire, the country rallied around Lytton. People from across Canada donated whatever they could to help evacuated residents. But now that the fire is out, Loring-Kuhanga said the public needs to continue supporting Lytton by raising the issue with their elected leaders.
“That’s our only saving grace right now — for the public to get behind us and start demanding from all levels of government financial and human resources.”
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