Investigator confident CN engine sparked fire

A fire investigator is confident flames from a CN Rail engine ignited a large grassfire on the Tk'emlups Indian reserve, but the issue of who pays the bill is a long way from being decided.

Fire and Rescue Insp. Dan Funk spoke with witnesses, the train's engineer and examined the locomotive. He said Thursday evidence suggests flames shot from two exhaust pipes on the engine into the grass.

"The engineer did say that he saw fire coming from (the exhaust)," said Funk. "We have those witness accounts from Dakota Road to match that."

But fire and City brass consider the investigation into Tuesday night's blaze to be ongoing. Deputy chief Jim Bell said there are several factors coming into play that need to be sorted out before a claim is made.

He said the fire burned on federal land located on a First Nations reserve. Fire and Rescue is contracted to fight fires on the reserve but the grass fire appears to be an accident.

"These are all the things that we've got to determine first before we can even think about it," said Bell.

Last summer the City billed CN Rail $20,000 when sparks from a train ignited a three-day blaze stretching from Singh Street to Cinnamon Ridge. More than 20 firefighters responded to the fire early on, but five to eight men were required to fight the blaze 24 hours a day.

City administrator Randy Diehl said the railway paid the claim.

With that incident it was clear someone from outside the City's jurisdiction started a fire within city limits. Diehl said that's not the case with Tuesday's fire.

"It's not that cut and dried," he said.

The chief of the Tk'emlups Indian Band believes the blame belongs to CN Rail. Shane Gottfriedson said the railway owns the land where the fire started and the band has complained for years about overgrown grass and weeds along the tracks.

Gottfriedson is also concerned about switching taking place in the area. He said crossings are blocked and residents become temporarily trapped by the trains.

"We have problems with maintenance and right of way," he said, adding he would like to sit down with CN officials to iron out the problem.

CN Rail spokeswoman Kelli Svendsen said the railway considers the matter under investigation.

Black smoke began rising above Kootenay Way shortly after 9 p.m. Tuesday. It wasn't long before flames lit up the night sky, making the fire visible from many parts of the city.

The fire set alight hundreds of metres of fencing and stretched into residents' yards.

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