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Canada orders railways to take new wildfire prevention measures

Canada on Sunday ordered rail transport restrictions for areas where there is a high wildfire risk in both British Columbia and nationally after a blaze wiped out the town of Lytton and killed two people earlier this month.

(C) Provided by National Post Rail cars in the Fraser River Valley south of Lytton, B.C., on Saturday, July 3, 2021.

The order will require both the Canadian National Railway (CN) and Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) to take a number of precautions to protect against wildfires, including reducing train speeds, according to a transport ministry statement. On Friday, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra had ordered a 48-hour stop to rail transport in parts of British Columbia that expired Saturday at midnight. The new restrictions took effect on Sunday morning and will remain until Oct.

31. The order “will put in place interim measures while the department works with railway companies to incorporate these fire risk reduction measures on a permanent basis,” the ministry said. The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) on Friday said it was deploying teams of investigators to see if freight trains were potentially responsible for sparking two fires, including the one that ravaged Lytton.

The Lytton blaze erupted after the town broke Canada’s more than 80-year-old heat record with a 49.6-degree Celsius temperature. There are now 297 wildfires burning in British Columbia, an increase of 97 in two days, according to official data. Canadian National Railway has said its trains were not linked to the fire and Canadian Pacific resumed its service through Lytton on Monday.

Alghabra says the CN and CP railways must ensure a 60-minute response time to any fires detected along rail lines running through Lytton, B.C., with the goal of extinguishing or controlling the blaze and asking the local fire service for help if necessary. In areas of the province facing extreme fire risk, CN and CP must ensure at least 10 fire detection patrols, remove combustible materials from the tracks, and ask conductors to report fires they spot, among other measures. Nationally, trains will have to run at reduced speeds when there is extreme fire risk and when the outdoor temperature is high.

CN and CP will also be required to come up with a fire risk mitigation plan and consult with indigenous communities about fire hazards. Already the recent spate of fires had disrupted shipments of goods in and out of the port of Vancouver. CN and CP did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Additional reporting by the Canadian Press.