A heat wave across Western Canada has prompted Environment Canada to issue health warnings to residents while the BC Wildfire Service has banned open fires amid concerns about dry conditions in B.C. forests.
The temperature in Lytton in the southern B.C. Interior rose to 46.1 on Sunday, setting a new Canadian record, according to Environment Canada.
Temperatures have soared to levels well above seasonal averages across Western Canada, with forecasts of record highs in the days ahead in parts of British Columbia.
Environment Canada data show that the previous Canadian record high of 45 was set on July 5, 1937, in the Saskatchewan communities of Yellow Grass and Midale.
In Lytton, the mercury could rise even further on Monday and Tuesday.
Besides banning open fires, the BC Wildfire Service is also considering clamping down on campfires, with some municipalities already imposing their own prohibitions against such fires at local campsites. Fire crews continued on the weekend to battle one major wildfire that began in mid-June, located near Lytton.
Environment Canada has issued heat warnings for most parts of British Columbia and Alberta, as well as portions of Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Yukon and the Northwest Territories.
“This is a very dangerous event for not only the vulnerable population, but pretty much everyone is at risk for heat-related illnesses,” Environment Canada meteorologist Bobby Sekhon said in an interview on Sunday. “We need to do what we can to keep cool and follow health guidelines such as drinking lots of water and wearing loose-fitting clothing.”
B.C. will experience the hottest temperatures during this week’s unprecedented “heat dome” while neighbouring provinces and territories are forecast to witness near-record highs.
Mr. Sekhon said seniors and infants are among the vulnerable population, while people working outside need to monitor themselves closely to avoid heat exhaustion during sweltering conditions.
“It’s pretty intense for Western Canada,” he said. “As the climate changes, we can expect more of these heat waves in the future. Certainly this current heat wave we’re in is consistent with climate change. However, we cannot directly attribute any one event to climate change.”
The hot spell that began late last week is expected to stretch into the upcoming weekend.
In Vancouver, where the temperature climbed to 31 by mid-afternoon on Sunday, the city deployed additional temporary water fountains as well as misting stations on street corners and in parks. Community centres in the city’s Downtown Eastside offered bottled water and sunblock to local residents.
Nicole Mucci, a spokeswoman for Union Gospel Mission (UGM), said survival is already a challenge for those experiencing homelessness without an added pandemic and heat wave.
“Many people who are living out on the streets have pre-existing health conditions, which means that they’re especially vulnerable to things such as temperature,” she said, citing asthma, addiction and mental-health issues as examples. “They have a much higher risk of mortality during extreme heat events than folks who live in middle-class neighbourhoods.”
Ms. Mucci said UGM’s Cornerstone drop-in centre is open for several hours during the afternoon each day to offer some reprieve from the heat, and that outreach workers have taken to the streets to hand out hats, bottled water and other supplies. The organization also has two mobile missions travelling throughout the B.C. Lower Mainland distributing supplies and cold beverages to those in need.
School districts in Vancouver, Langley, Mission, Abbotsford and Coquitlam announced they would close schools on Monday because of the extreme temperatures, while other districts said parents had the option of keeping their children home.
The heat wave caused disruptions to several COVID-19 vaccine clinics. In Abbotsford, Fraser Health rebooked appointments scheduled for the Ag-Rec Centre on Saturday afternoon, citing the need to protect the health and safety of staff and clients as the temperature at the clinic rose.
On Vancouver Island, people scheduled to receive their vaccines at the Aggie Hall clinic on several dates between June 25 and July 3 were moved to the air-conditioned Cedar Community Centre 12 kilometres away. Other appointments for Monday in Langford and on Gabriola Island were also postponed.
In B.C. forests, crews are being mindful of their working conditions to stay safe from the intense heat, said BC Wildfire Service information officer Jean Strong.
“We’re taking a lot of care to look after those who are working outside,” she said. “That means things like implementing rest breaks, emphasizing sun protection and altering the time of their shifts as needed.”
Besides fighting the major wildfire covering 350 hectares near Lytton, crews are also batting 15 smaller wildfires elsewhere in British Columbia.
Ms. Strong cautioned that should the hot and dry weather persist, it would increase the risks for wildfires.
“Campfire bans are implemented regionally. At this time, a lot of the province is probably approaching the point of the potential for campfire bans,” she said. “As of June 25, open burning was prohibited throughout the entire province.”
Environment Canada said the heat wave is surprising because it is still June. “We usually expect these hot spells to come at the end of July or into August,” Mr. Sekhon said. “Not only will daily temperature records fall for June, but I’m sure some all-time records will fall as well.”
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