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Canadian firefighters battle 170 blazes amid heat wave

July 3, 2021

Fires have devastated towns in British Columbia, with the military on standby to respond to the threat.

Flames rise from a burning building along a street during a wildfire in Lytton, British Columbia
Two people died in a fire in the small town of Lytton in British ColumbiaImage: 2 RIVERS REMIX SOCIETY via REUTES

Over 170 wildfires were raging in the western Canadian province of British Columbia (BC) on Saturday, as the region experiences a record heat wave.

The Canadian military was put on standby to help fight the blazes and evacuate citizens from affected towns.

Many of the fires were caused by lightning strikes. 

"We saw 12,000 lightning strikes, roughly, yesterday," British Columbia Wildfire Service official Cliff Chapman told the public CBC news outlet on Saturday.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has vowed to work with the government of British Columbia to respond to the threat. 

Towns devastated by the blazes

The small British Columbian town of Lytton was almost completely destroyed by the blazes. The town recorded a record high temperature of 49.6 degrees Celsius (121.28 degrees F) earlier this week. 

"Schools have burned, homes have burned, ambulance stations, hospitals," Canadian news reporter Emad Agahi told DW from the town of Boston Bar, which is located not far from Lytton. 

Although authorities said they believe there were likely two fatalities so far, Agahi said the number could be higher. He said the town is still "hazardous," which makes it difficult for authorities to come in and determine the true number of deaths. 

Agahi said the destruction is likely not over yet. 

"Unfortunately, it's only the beginning of our traditional wildfire season," Agahi added.

Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist at the California-based Breakthrough Institute, told DW on aturday that climate change is exacerbating heat waves in the province. 

"Climate change makes heat waves much more severe than they would be in a world without climate change," Hausfather said.

Heat wave kills hundreds in Canada, US

The unprecedented heat wave has killed hundreds across Canada and the United States. 

British Columbia's chief medical coroner Lisa LaPointe said Friday that 719 sudden and unexpected deaths have occurred due to the ongoing heat wave, which began on June 25.

The heat has also caused fatalities in the US states of Washington and Oregon.

The death toll in Oregon has reached at least 95 as of Friday, according to the state's medical examiner's office. Washington officials say there have been around 30 deaths so far from the heat. 

wd/sms (AFP, AP, dpa)