British Columbia Seeks Military Help to Fight Growing Wildfires

A protracted heat wave is fueling scores of wildfires in Canada’s western provinces, with British Columbia officials saying the extreme heat has caused the death rate to triple and warning that a long summer of firefighting lies ahead.

Environment Canada issued heat alerts on Friday for most of the west, in addition to smoke warnings in parts of B.C., where responders are battling 137 active blazes, the largest one measuring 100 hectares. The fires have consumed 79,000 hectares (305 square miles) so far -- a figure that’s expected to rise to 100,000 hectares by the end of the weekend, prompting the Pacific Coast province to request help, including planes, from the federal government and military.

“It’s not comparable to seasons past,” Cliff Chapman, director of provincial operations for the B.C. Wildfire Service, told reporters Friday. The fires have started about a week earlier than 2017, the most devastating year on record for the province. “It’s appearing to look like a long season ahead,” he said.

Evacuation orders or alerts have been issued to more than 2,200 homes in B.C. An evacuation order also remains in the village of Lytton, awash in toxic gases since burning to the ground earlier this week after recording the country’s highest-ever temperature at 49.6 degrees Celsius (121.3 degrees Fahrenheit). The village is about 300 kilometers northeast of Vancouver.

British Columbia Seeks Military Help to Fight Growing Wildfires

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called an emergency meeting of a cabinet crisis group to address the matter. At a news conference Friday, he said the events highlighted the need to continue tackling climate change. Unusual heat in B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan is an example of how “extreme weather events are becoming more frequent,” he said.

“We’re going to be there to support people getting through this incredibly difficult time,” the prime minister said.

There are no immediate threats to oil and gas assets in B.C., but because of the volatile nature of wildfires, energy companies in the province have been notified and asked to prepare for the possibility of impacts, said Lannea Parfitt, a spokesperson for the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission.

British Columbia said its death rate tripled during the week of hot weather: there were 719 sudden deaths between June 25 to July 1, three times what would normally occur, the B.C. Coroners Service said in a statement Friday. The tally is expected to rise further as more records are entered into the system, it added.

The extreme weather has extended to the east and the north: on Wednesday, Fort Smith in the Northwest Territories hit 39.6 degrees Celsius, the highest temperature ever recorded above 60 degrees latitude in the northern hemisphere, according to the Weather Network, a meteorological service.

British Columbia Seeks Military Help to Fight Growing Wildfires

In B.C., Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. said the fire near Lytton had disrupted mainline operations and it wasn’t yet known when train movement would resume through the area.

In the northern part of Saskatchewan, Cameco Corp. evacuated non-essential personnel from its uranium mine and suspended production because of a nearby fire on Thursday. The company said Friday that the fire had moved past the main camp area without serious impact, but it gave no timeline for the return of about 230 workers who were forced to leave.

In Alberta, the oil-rich province between B.C. and Saskatchewan, wildfires were not affecting oil or gas operations, which will continue to be monitored, said Derek Forsythe, a wildfire information officer.

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