Nearly 300 wildfires are active in British Columbia’s western province, which experienced record heat last month.
The Canadian province of British Columbia (BC) has declared a state of emergency amid a spate of wildfires that have displaced hundreds of people from their homes and could worsen in the coming days.
According to a provincial forest fire tracker, 299 fires were active in BC on Tuesday afternoon, including 18 that had been lit in the past two days.
Mike Farnworth, BC’s secretary of public safety, said at a news conference that more than 3,180 firefighters and other personnel are fighting fires in the county.
He said more evacuations could be ordered as weather forecasts could fuel the fires in the coming days. “We have reached a critical point,” Farnworth told reporters.
“Based on the advice of the emergency response and wildfire officials, and my briefing last night about the deteriorating weather, I am declaring a state of emergency. This will address the potential for a mass evacuation scenario and provide our government with the resources to secure the accommodation spaces needed to support evacuees.”
The state of emergency will last for at least 14 days and may be extended, the BC government said in a statement. There are currently 40 evacuation orders in place affecting about 5,724 people, while 69 evacuation warnings have also been issued – including residents being told to leave their homes immediately – affecting more than 32,000 people.
BC was one of several provinces in Western Canada that saw record temperatures last month as a so-called “heat dome” trapped in hot air over the region.
Several wildfires broke out at the time amid extremely dry conditions and a wave of lightning strikes. The village of Lytton, BC, was burned to the ground after a fast-moving fire engulfed the community, killing two residents just after breaking the country’s all-time heat record.
Officials said the heat wave has contributed to hundreds of deaths in BC alone, especially among frail elderly.
Earlier this month, the Canadian government announced new measures to prevent wildfires during periods of extreme heat.
In a statement on July 11, the federal transportation department said railroad operators should reduce the speed of trains if temperatures exceed 30 Celsius (86 Fahrenheit), and ensure that trains are not running with combustible materials that could cause fires.
Brian Wiens, director of Canada Wildfire, a research consortium, told Al Jazeera this month that “very, very hot, dry weather is not uncommon for late July through August in BC, in particular, and also in Alberta.”
But the June heat wave was “stronger and earlier” than seen before, Wiens said.
He also said temperatures that stay above levels considered typical for an extended period of time are “a pretty strong indication that we’re seeing evidence of climate change here.”
Many experts have pointed to climate change as a factor that has exacerbated extreme weather events such as wildfires, heat waves and tropical storms.
The western United States is also experiencing an increase in wildfires, with hundreds of firefighters deployed to control massive fires in the states of Oregon and California.
Wildfires in the western US and Canada are sending smoke east, deteriorating air quality and causing colorful sunsets in places.
According to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) in Boise, Idaho, on Tuesday more than 80 major wildfires in 13 western states charred nearly 1.3 million acres (526,090 hectares), an area larger than the state of Delaware.