CN Rail loses appeal, must pay $16-million fine for 2015 wildfire

Railway fined $16 million

An appeal by CN Rail against a 2018 decision regarding fines levied for a fire in 2015 near Lytton has not gone CN's way.

The railway has been ordered to pay $16,619,782.70 in fines for the 2015 Cisco Road Wildfire. The 54-page decision from March 2020 comes from the Forest Appeals Commission (FAC), which heard the case after CN put in their appeal in 2018. The original fine was levied by the fire centre manager in Prince George.

"CN accepted responsibility for the contraventions and the administrative penalty. CN did not dispute the amounts assessed in the order for the value of damaged or destroyed Crown timber, and silviculture and reforestation," states a summary of the decision from the FAC. "However, CN disputed the amounts assessed for fire control costs, and 'other forest land resources' and 'grassland resources' that were damaged or destroyed by the wildfire."

The fire started on June 11, 2015, around 11:30 a.m. next to CN's tracks south of Lytton, according to decision documentation. It was determined sparks from rail cutting caused a grass fire. At the time, the area was rated 'extreme' for fire risk and rail cutting is deemed a 'high-risk activity,' according to regulations.

Despite wildfire service crews arriving quickly, the blaze got out of control, leading to the evacuations of a First Nations community and an evacuation alert in Lytton. In total, nearly 2,400 hectares burned, of which nearly 2,177 was Crown land.

The appeal focused on the two largest portions of the fine: the fire control costs and the amount for damaged land resources. The original fine stated CN would have to pay $8.97 million for the land resources (timber, grasslands, etc.) and $7.07 million for the fire control.

In CN's appeal, they requested those amounts be decreased to $4.73 million for the land resources and $3.26 for the fire control costs.

The FAC did change the amounts. The new fine amounts are $9.38 million for the damaged land resources and $6.94 million for the fire control costs. This increased the total fine — which included smaller, undisputed amounts — by around $300,000.

In the decision, the FAC notes the decrease to the fire control costs didn't come about due to CN's argument, but because of amended documents.

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