Canadian military on alert as wildfires rage

Published July 4, 2021
A wildfire southwest of Deka Lake in British Columbia.—AFP
A wildfire southwest of Deka Lake in British Columbia.—AFP

OTTAWA: The Canadian military was on standby on Saturday to help evacuate towns and fight more than 170 wildfires fueled by a record-smashing heatwave and tinder-dry conditions as the government in Ottawa warned of a “long and challenging summer” ahead.

At least 177 fires were active in the western province of British Columbia, 76 of them sparked in the last two days, officials said. Most were caused by intense lightning storms.

The fires were north of the city of Kamloops, 350 kilometers northeast of Vancouver.

“We saw 12,000 lightning strikes, roughly, yesterday,” said Cliff Chapman, the director of provincial operations for British Columbia Wildfire Service, according to public broadcaster the CBC.

“Many of those lightning strikes were hitting near communities, (as) was seen in the Kamloops area.” While the immediate blame for the scorching heat has been placed on a high-pressure “heat dome” trapping warm air in the region, climate change is making record-setting temperatures more frequent.

Globally, the decade to 2019 was the hottest recorded, and the five hottest years on record have all occurred since 2012, according to climate.gov.

“The dry conditions and the extreme heat in British Columbia are unprecedented,” Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said. “These wildfires show that we are in the earliest stages of what promises to be a long and challenging summer.” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with an incident response group that included several ministers, after earlier speaking with local, provincial and indigenous leaders.

“We will be there to help,” he told reporters.

The response group said it would establish an operations center in Edmonton, with up to 350 military personnel providing logistical support to the region, according to Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan. Military aircraft are also being deployed.

Roughly 1,000 people have fled the wildfires in British Columbia, with many others still missing.

Late Friday, the British Columbia medical examiner’s office said there had been 719 deaths in the past week, “three times more” than the average number recorded over the period.

Lisa Lapointe, the province’s chief coroner, said the extreme weather was likely “a significant contributing factor.” The village of Lytton, 250 kilometers (155 miles) northeast of Vancouver, was evacuated Wednesday after a fire flared up and spread quickly. Nearly 90 percent of the village was torched, according to Brad Vis, an MP for the area.

On Tuesday, the village set a Canadian record of 49.6 degrees Celsius (121 degrees Fahrenheit).

“I cannot stress enough how extreme the fire risk is at this time in almost every part of British Columbia,” provincial premier John Horgan said, urging people to follow instructions from officials.

The heat wave continued to spread across central Canada on Saturday, also affecting 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,” bringing “very warm temperatures over the next couple of days,” Environment Canada warned in bulletins for British Columbia. Lytton resident Jeff Chapman told the CBC he saw his parents die in the fire that engulfed the town.

With only minutes to react, the elderly couple sought shelter 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.

British Columbia also warned of flooding from melting mountain snowcaps and glaciers.

Further south, the US states of Washington and Oregon have also suffered record temperatures. The death toll in Oregon from heat-related causes has hit 94, the state’s medical examiner said.

Three wildfires in drought-hit northern California have scorched nearly 40,000 acres (16,200 hectares), including a popular tourist lake preparing to welcome visitors for the July 4 holiday weekend. Evacuation orders were in place along stretches of Shasta Lake.

Published in Dawn, July 4th, 2021

Opinion

What a tangled web

What a tangled web

So poorly kept is this secret about the opposition’s real hopes and no plans that even the government has figured it out.
Climate threat over South Asia
Updated 26 Oct 2021

Climate threat over South Asia

Water shortages, drought, floods or landslides and tsunamis are not constrained by national boundaries.
Losing heritage
26 Oct 2021

Losing heritage

It’s not a good idea to turn Mohatta into a college.
The long impasse
Updated 25 Oct 2021

The long impasse

Management of Pakistan-India tensions is likely to remain the main focus of sporadic backchannel efforts.

Editorial

Perfect in every way
Updated 26 Oct 2021

Perfect in every way

GLORIOUS. Gratifying. Liberating. Pakistan’s thumping victory over India in their opening fixture of the T20 World...
26 Oct 2021

Balochistan CM’s exit

ON Sunday, Jam Kamal Khan Alyani’s name was added to the long list of chief ministers of Balochistan who ...
Minister’s odd logic
26 Oct 2021

Minister’s odd logic

THE government’s contradictions and confusion appear to have no end when it comes to dealing with the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan.
25 Oct 2021

Party to a vile campaign

THE PTI government’s hostility towards the media and its intolerance for dissent is well known. The target of ...
Financial crisis
Updated 25 Oct 2021

Financial crisis

DESPITE having progressed to ‘very good step’ and being ‘close to concluding the agreement’ a few days back,...
25 Oct 2021

Morals and Pemra

TIME and again, Pemra has come under fire for issuing arbitrary instructions to TV channels on matters ranging from...