Good morning. It’s James Keller in Calgary.
Earlier this week, the village of Lytton, B.C., was making international headlines for enduring the hottest temperatures recorded in Canada, reaching nearly 50C.
The fire is the latest tragedy in a heatwave that is already believed to have contributed to hundreds of deaths in B.C. and sent many more to the emergency room for heat-related illnesses. The weather has also been linked to dozens of deaths in the northwestern United States as experts warn that it’s merely the latest example of extreme weather that will become more common because of climate change.
The provincial government has requested help from the military and other provinces to deal with the worsening wildfire situation.
The Lytton fire broke out Wednesday and spread rapidly, prompting a frantic evacuation that left an unknown number of people unaccounted for. Two people have been confirmed dead and the RCMP were waiting for it to be safe enough to allow them to search the remains of the town.
The fire cut landlines and cellphone service, making the evacuation effort even more difficult. Survivors have recounted harrowing tales of fleeing as the flames engulfed their properties as the fire roared through the village.
John Haugen, acting Chief of Lytton First Nation, said the area is like a “war zone.”
“It’s been catastrophic,” he said. “We lost our emergency health clinic, our hotel, our RCMP detachment, our grocery store – it’s all gone.”
The heatwave has fuelled a destructive start to this year’s wildfire season, with 136 active fires as of yesterday afternoon – including nine considered significant because of their size or proximity to people or buildings.
The hot, dry weather has created an extreme fire risk, which was made worse by more than 100,000 lightning strikes that hit the ground.
Cliff Chapman, director of provincial operations for BC Wildfire Service, said the province is already tracking well above an average year and even ahead of one of the most destructive fire seasons in recent years.
Mr. Chapman said wildfires were expected to have burned about 100,000 hectares of land across the province as of Friday. In comparison, in 2017, when 1.2 million hectares burned in what was the second-largest fire season in more than a decade, the province didn’t reach that total until mid-July.
He predicted a “long season” ahead for fire crews.
The heatwave and resulting fires is the latest extreme weather event to be attributed to climate change –and one that experts have been warning for years will only become more severe and more frequent.
For some context about how this all fits together, and what the B.C. heatwave and wildfires can tell us about what the future holds, read our explainer about a weather event that David Phillips, senior climatologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada, described as “almost Biblical.”