A heatwave that has scorched much of western Canada and the US Northwest eased on Wednesday after smashing record high temperatures throughout the region this week, but officials were still bracing for more sizzling temperatures and the threat of wildfires.
Deaths soared in the Canadian Pacific coast province of British Columbia in recent days.
Cities in the US states of Washington and Oregon shattered all-time highs for temperature for days.
US officials blamed the heat for a handful of deaths.
In Canada, at least 233 people died in British Colombia between Friday and Monday, about 100 more than the average for a four-day period, the BC Coroners Service said.
Lytton, a town in central British Columbia, this week broke Canada’s all-time hottest temperature record three times.
It stands at 49.6° Celsius (121.28° Fahrenheit) as of Tuesday.
The previous high in Canada, known for brutally cold winters, was 45C, set in Saskatchewan in 1937.
Lytton, 250km (155 miles) northeast of Vancouver, was evacuated on Wednesday night because of a fire that spread quickly.
“A fire ... is threatening structures and the safety of residents,” a statement signed by Mayor Jan Polderman on Wednesday said.
“The fire situation is extremely dangerous right now. Emergency crews are doing everything they can to support the people of Lytton,” British Columbia premier John Horgan commented on Twitter.
The evacuation order was extended on Wednesday night to residents of about 100 properties north of Lytton.
“An exceptionally strong ridge of high pressure over British Columbia will continue to bring record-breaking temperatures over the next couple of days,” Environment Canada said in a bulletin issued early yesterday morning for the Prince George, British Columbia area.
“The duration of this heat wave is concerning as there is little relief at night with elevated overnight temperatures,” it added.
Yesterday, the heatwave continued to move eastward into the central Canadian prairies.
In addition to British Columbia, heatwave warnings have been issued for the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and parts of the Northwest Territories, and now northern Ontario.
In the US Northwest, temperatures in Washington and Oregon soared well above 100F (40C) over the weekend.
Portland, Oregon set all-time highs several days in a row including 116F (47C) on Sunday.
The heat dome, a weather phenomenon trapping heat and blocking other weather systems from moving in, weakened as it moved east, but was still intense enough to set records from Alberta to Manitoba, said David Phillips, climatologist at Environment and Climate Change Canada, a government agency.
“In some of these places, their records are being annihilated,” Phillips said. “It really is spectacular, unprecedented for us.”
It was unclear what triggered the dome, but climate change looks to be a contributor, given the heatwave’s duration and extremes, Phillips said, also noting that it set new temperature highs a month earlier than the usual hottest time of year.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau paused to remember the dead during remarks in Ottawa on Wednesday and expressed concern over the fire treat.
“We’ve been seeing more and more of this type of extreme weather event in the past years,” he said. “So realistically, we know that this heat wave won’t be the last.”
Oregon Governor Kate Brown declared a state of emergency due to “imminent threat of wildfires” while the US National Weather Service (NWS) in Portland issued a red-flag warning for parts of the state, saying that wind conditions could spread fire quickly should one start.
“Now is the time to make sure your emergency prep kit is ready to go in the case you are asked to evacuate,” the weather service said.
The Portland Fire Department banned use of fireworks for the Fourth of July weekend, when Americans celebrate Independence Day.
Elderly people, along with children and the chronically ill were especially at risk, said British Columbia’s chief coroner, Lisa Lapointe.
Advocates warned that migrant workers were particularly vulnerable, especially inside greenhouses.
Staff were cancelling outdoor activities to keep seniors safe, said Lee Coonfer, chief executive of the BC Seniors Living Association, which represents 175 seniors homes.
The extreme weather poses different threats depending on the region.
Most of Alberta and large parts of British Columbia and Saskatchewan are at extreme risk of wildfires, according to Natural Resources Canada’s fire weather map.
“All the ingredients are there. It’s a powder keg just looking for a spark,” said Mike Flannigan, professor of wildland fire at University of Alberta.
The interior of British Columbia fears thunderstorms forecast for today will bring lightning, sparking forest fires.
But the Chilcotin region, roughly 600km (370 miles) north of Vancouver, was on flood warning due to the “unprecedented” amount of snow melting at “extraordinary” rates, according to a government release.
“These are the types of issues that are going to be confronted more and more over the next few years,” said Adam Rysanek, assistant professor of environmental systems at the University of British Columbia.
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