The Canadian military was on standby Saturday to help evacuate towns and fight more than 170 wildfires fueled by a record-smashing heat wave and tinder-dry conditions as the government in Ottawa warned of a “long and challenging summer” ahead.
At least 174 fires were active in the western province of British Columbia, 78 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 (220 miles) 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 Friday. “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 Friday with an incident response group that included several ministers, after earlier speaking with local, provincial and indigenous leaders.