First Nations leader pledges action after rail service resumes by Lytton, B.C.

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LYTTON, B.C. — One of two rail companies with routes through Lytton, B.C., says it has resumed service after a wildfire devastated the village last week, a move one First Nations leader says he's willing to do "what's necessary" to stop.

Chief Matt Pasco, chairman of the Nlaka'pamux Nation Tribal Council based in Lytton, said the decision by Canadian Pacific Railway to allow trains in the area is creating anxiety for members already shaken by the near-complete destruction of the village in a matter of minutes.

"It's tinder dry, tinder dry," Pasco said in an interview on Tuesday. "Our governance structures are saying there should be a pause here."

Canadian Pacific says in a statement that mainline operations resumed Monday after safety inspections were completed of the tracks and infrastructure.

The company says it is increasing inspections of its tracks and equipment during this period of extreme weather and staff are on-site supporting local authorities.

The fire disrupted critical transportation services for the movement of goods across Western Canada and the rest of the continent, CP said.

"The safety of the public and our employees is our priority and we are implementing appropriate measures," the statement says.

Canadian National Railway, which also halted service due to the wildfire, did not respond to a request for comment.

Pasco said any possible fire risk, including trains, should be avoided. If the transportation of goods is deemed critical, then they can be moved by trucks, he suggested.

The Lytton fire made clear that, despite everyone's best efforts, the resources are not in place to protect residents against an aggressive blaze, he said.

Pasco said he has raised his concerns with both the premier's office and federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller.

When asked if he was considering blocking the rail, Pasco said he is hoping conversations with relevant agencies will result in the service stopping, but he is also willing to do what's necessary in the name of safety and has reached out to others asking them to stand in solidarity.

"I'm not here to threaten anyone or anything like that, but we take the safety of our people very seriously. I've reached out to others to stand with us and do right, and I suspect that sound minds will prevail," he said.

The tribal council will use its authority to protect its people, if required, he said.

"I will use our jurisdiction to do what's necessary to save our people and make sure they're out of harm's way."

There are more than 200 wildfires burning across British Columbia.

The BC Wildfire Service has said investigators believe the fire that tore through Lytton on June 30 was human-caused, but the investigation is ongoing.

Teck Resources Ltd., which relies on CP and CN rail service through the area, says in a statement that it is rerouting shipments from its steelmaking coal operations to the Ridley Terminals in Prince Rupert.

The company is assessing the overall impact to customer shipments and production, which will be dependent on the length of the rail disruption.

However, based on guidance from the railways with respect to the timeline for repairs, Teck's third-quarter steelmaking coal sales are expected to be reduced by 300,000 to 500,000 tonnes due to the limited rail traffic flow, the statement says.

— By Amy Smart in Vancouver.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 6, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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