Wildfire ravages Canada amid record heat

More than 1,000 people in and around Lytton, in central British Columbia, were evacuated after the fast-moving fire engulfed the community.

Lytton hit with forest fire

A forest fire that began after three days of record-breaking temperatures has destroyed most of the small western Canadian town of Lytton, as government officials issued fresh evacuation orders as more wildfires tore through the province.

More than 1,000 people in and around Lytton, in central British Columbia, were evacuated late on Wednesday after the fast-moving fire engulfed the community, catching residents by surprise. 

Amateur video footage showed residents of Lytton scrambling to leave town in cars as fires burned down trees and some structures.

Lytton Mayor Jan Polderman ordered everyone in the town of 250 to vacate. Residents of another 87 properties north of Lytton were also ordered to leave on Wednesday.


Record temperatures

Lytton set a record of 49.6 degrees Celsius (121.28 degrees Fahrenheit) last Tuesday. The previous high in Canada, known for brutally cold winters, was 45 degrees Celsius, set in Saskatchewan in 1937.

Last Wednesday, strong winds gusting up to 71 kph (44 mph) were recorded in the area, flaming the fires.

The province recorded at least 486 sudden deaths over five days to Wednesday, nearly three times the usual number that would occur in the province over that period, the B.C. Coroners Service said.


British Columbia hit with forest fire

Ottawa prepared to send military aircraft and other help to evacuate towns and fight more than 100 wildfires in western Canada fueled by a record-smashing heat wave.

According to wildfire officials, at least 152 fires were active in British Columbia, 89 of them sparked in the last two days. Most were caused by lightning strikes.

The fires were located north of the city of Kamloops, 350 kilometers (217 miles) northeast of Vancouver.


Wildfire triggers massive heatwave

Experts believe the heat wave, which has triggered extreme heat alerts in areas where millions of people live, is caused by global warming. The heat has killed more than 700 people in Canada and at least 16 in the United States.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with an incident response group that included several ministers. He said he had already spoken with British Columbia's premier, as well as local mayors and indigenous chiefs in communities under threat.

"We will be there to help," he told a news conference.


Military aircraft deployed

The response group announced it would set up an operations center in Edmonton, where armed forces will be able to provide logistical support. Military aircraft were also deployed to help.

"The dry conditions and the extreme heat in British Columbia are unprecedented," said Public Safety Minister Bill Blair. "These wildfires show that we are in the earliest stages of what promises to be a long and challenging summer."

Roughly 1,000 people have already fled the wildfires in British Columbia, and authorities are searching for many who have gone missing.


Heat wave warning

The heat wave continued to spread across central Canada. In addition to British Columbia, heat wave warnings were issued for the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, as well as parts of the Northwest Territories and northern Ontario.

"A dangerous long duration heat wave will continue" and will bring "very warm temperatures over the next couple of days," Environment Canada warned in bulletins for British Columbia.

"The duration of this heat wave is concerning as there is little relief at night with elevated overnight temperatures."


Extreme weather

Late Friday, the British Columbia province medical examiner's office said there had been 719 deaths in the past week, "three times more" than the average number of deaths recorded over this period under normal circumstances.

"It is believed likely the extreme weather BC has experienced in the past week is a significant contributing factor to the increased number of deaths," Lisa Lapointe, the province's chief coroner, said in a statement.

Lytton resident Jeff Chapman told the CBC he witnessed his parents die in the fire that engulfed the town.

With only minutes to react, the elderly couple sought shelter from the smoke and flames in a trench in their backyard, as Chapman ran for safety at nearby rail tracks. From that vantage, he said he saw the fires sweep across and destroy most of the town.


Washington and Oregon hit with heatwave

British Columbia also warned of flooding from melting mountain snow caps and glaciers under the heat dome, which occurs when hot air is trapped by high pressure fronts heating the ground.

Farther south, the US states of Washington and Oregon have also been sweltering under record-high temperatures this week.

Hundreds of firefighters scrambled to contain three wildfires in drought-hit northern California that have scorched nearly 40,000 acres, including a popular tourist lake preparing to welcome hordes of visitors for the July 4 holiday weekend.

Evacuation orders were in place along stretches of Shasta Lake -- a camping and boating hotspot 160 kilometers south of the Oregon border -- as soaring temperatures and high winds spur blazes at a relatively early stage in the region's fire season.


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