Canadian troops were ready on Saturday to take part in fighting fires that threaten to increase the number of unprecedented and deadly heatwaves in the west of the country and the United States.
About 177 fires were active on Saturday morning in the province of British Columbia, of which 70% were probably caused by lightning, according to the latest report by local authorities.
This western province, with its usually humid and temperate climate, saw a thermometer race a week ago and reached unbearable temperatures.
There, at least 719 people have died since the onset of this heat, three times more than normal, according to local health authorities.
On the other side of the border, the northwestern United States has also found itself under this “heat dome,” a rare climate phenomenon that, experts say, has been exacerbated by global warming.
According to the latest official reports, at least 94 people have died in the US state of Oregon and about 20 in the state of Washington.
Under the combined effect of electric climate and drought, fire outbreaks multiply on both sides of the border and progress rapidly.
– 350 soldiers –
The small village of Lytton, 250 km northeast of Vancouver, has become a symbol of this crisis: after breaking a historic record in heat in Canada, with 49.6 degrees Celsius, it found itself under fire threat.
Its 250 residents were evacuated in an emergency, and the disaster finally devastated 90% of its territory.
One of its residents, Jeff Chapman, explained to the English channel CBC, watching, helplessly, how his parents were dying in a disaster, when an electric pole fell on their shelter.
Even as mercury began to fall ashore, the heat wave spread inland from Canada to Ontario, leaving millions on alert due to the heat on Saturday.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau convened several ministers on Friday to help the central government of the affected provinces.
Ottawa has in particular announced the opening of an operations center in Edmonton, western Canada, where 350 troops will be ready to provide logistical assistance “across the region”.
Acknowledging the drought, Public Security Secretary Bill Blair predicted a “long and difficult summer” on the fires.
– Pyrocumulus –
In recent days, the situation has worsened with the appearance of a rare phenomenon: pyrocumulus, storm clouds that form above the source of strong heat. As these in turn create lightning, they facilitate the creation of other braziers.
Thunderstorms that formed over the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta created more than 700,000 lightning strikes between Wednesday and Thursday, calculated the Finnish company Vaisala, a specialist in environmental protection measures.
“I can only stress that the danger of fire is currently extreme in almost all parts of British Columbia and I urge the British to listen carefully to the authorities and follow the instructions,” he said. He prayed to the Prime Minister of the Province, John Horgan.
More than 500 lightning strikes were also recorded in California on Friday, where forest fires engulfed more than 15,000 acres, including in a tourist area preparing to welcome numerous visitors for a long weekend on Statehood Day on July 4th.
Authorities in California have ordered an evacuation along Lake Shasta, an area popular with campers south of the Oregon border, and about 40 buildings have been destroyed, including at least half a dozen homes near Lakehead.