Canada : Lightning strikes triggered by heatwave could fuel forest fires in Western Canada
The unprecedented heatwave baking the Pacific Northwest has claimed as many as 700 lives over the last one week in Canada alone, according to officials, while two people were reported to have died due to a raging wildfire triggered by the heat in the village of Lytton in British Columbia, which had sizzled under a record high temperature of 49.6°C earlier in the week.
The escalating crisis sent Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau into an emergency huddle with the country’s incident response group as they discussed ways to combat it, focusing on British Columbia. Due to the challenging conditions in and around Lytton due to the wildfire, investigators have been unable to confirm the two fatalities in the village.
BC chief coroner Lisa Lapointe told reporters that 719 sudden deaths were recorded in the province in the week ending July 1 – which is three times higher than the average tally. The BC Wildfire Service said there were 136 ongoing wildfires in the province with nine of them being considered of note since they posed a danger to public safety.
Over 710,000 lightning strikes were recorded in British Columbia and western Alberta between 3 p.m. on Wednesday and 6 a.m. on Thursday, up from an average 8,300 from the same period over the past five years, said Chris Vagasky, a meteorologist with Vaisala, a global environmental measurements company which collects the data. British Columbia usually accounts for about 5% of Canada’s total lighting strikes each year, but it has reported its annual number in less than 48 hours.
The high number of lightning strikes was caused in part by the heat wave, which created high levels of moisture in the atmosphere in the form of melting snow and evaporation of water from vegetation, said Jonathan Bau, a meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada.
Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden told a virtual meeting with governors from western states that “the threat of western wildfires this year is as severe as it’s ever been.”
“This is one of the most extreme heat waves that we have seen on Earth, in many years, anywhere, in terms of the deviation from the typical conditions in this particular part of the world,” said Daniel Swain, a climate expert at UCLA, noting that temperature records are rarely broken by “more than a degree.”