500 Dead in British Columbia Heat Wave

July 2, 2021

Sparks Lake fire from Barriere, BC Maureen Smith on Twitter

File under: Headlines I never expected to see.


Nearly 500 people have died in British Columbia since Friday as a historic heat wave grips the region, Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe said in a statement Wednesday.

Why it matters: The heatwave in the Pacific Northwest has shattered records and alarmed scientists. In Lytton, British Columbia the temperature soared to 121°F on Tuesday, conditions which, in North America, are usually reserved for the desert Southwest.

The big picture: The record-breaking temperatures scorching the Pacific Northwest have translated to a markedly higher death rate than usual in British Columbia. 

  • “The last five days in British Columbia have seen an unprecedented number of deaths reported to the BC Coroners Service. Between Friday and 1 p.m. today, at least 486 sudden and unexpected deaths have been reported to our agency,” Lapointe noted.
  • The 486 deaths represent a “195% increase over the approximately 165 deaths that would normally occur in the province over a five-day period,” she added.

Of note: Although not all of these deaths can be attributed to the heatwave in the Pacific Northwest, Lapointe said the extreme weather is likely responsible for the surge in numbers.

  • “While it is too early to say with certainty how many of these deaths are heat related, it is believed likely that the significant increase in deaths reported is attributable to the extreme weather B.C. has experienced and continues to impact many parts of our province.”

What to watch: The number is “preliminary” and is expected to increase as more reports are filed and data is updated. 

What they’re saying: John Horgan, the premier of British Columbia, said at a press conference Tuesday that the heat wave underscored the existential threat posed by global warming, per the New York Times

  • “The big lesson coming out of the past number of days is that the climate crisis is not a fiction,” Horgan said. “It is absolutely real.”

Lytton, Canada, the town in British Columbia, land of glaciers, which set a record 121 F heat record this week, has burned.

Castanet – Kelowna’s Homepage:

A family that fled a wildfire near Lytton, B.C., is wondering if they’ll have a home to go back to as hundreds of residents of the village were ordered to leave because structures and public safety were threatened.

Mayor Jan Polderman of Lytton issued an evacuation order on Twitter at 6 p.m. local time Wednesday, a day after the town shattered a Canadian record with the highest-ever temperature of 49.6 C on Tuesday, the third day in a row the mercury kept rising.

Premier John Horgan called the fire situation “extremely dangerous” and said emergency crews were doing everything they could to support the village with a population of about 250 people.

Jean McKay said she smelled smoke at her home in the First Nations community of Kanaka Bar, home to about 100 people and approximately 15 kilometres from Lytton.

McKay said her 22-year-old daughter, Deirdre McKay, started to panic as the smell of smoke grew stronger.

“I was still sitting there and wondering what to pack, emotionally walking out my door but thinking ‘I’m leaving all this behind.’ It’s hard. Very hard. When my girlfriend told me her house was burning it really hit home,” McKay said.

“My daughter phoned before we lost services and stuff, she’s telling us, ‘Get out of there, get out of there.'”

Leaving their home was extremely difficult, she said: “I cried. My daughter cried. She said ‘I don’t even know why I grabbed my key. We might not even have a home.’ I said, ‘Yeah I know. As long as we’re together we’ll survive.’ I just pray that our houses are OK.”

There was one memento her daughter couldn’t leave behind: “She grabbed my dad’s picture off the wall,” McKay said. “I’m telling her, ‘We’re walking out and this is the home we built forever and that you guys grew up in.’ It’s harsh.”

McKay said that with nowhere to go, she, her two daughters, her granddaughter and her mother went to stay at the CP Rail “bunkhouse” in Boston Bar, where she works as a cleaning supervisor and where crews often stay overnight.

Her thoughts late Wednesday night were on the damage the wildfire may have inflicted on Lytton and the surrounding area.

“Now I’m wondering if the bridge is still standing in Lytton. There’s a train bridge that the community walks on too. That fire was all around that area.”

McKay said there was no sign of any trouble shortly before the stench of smoke blanketed the area around her home.

Scott Hildebrand, chief administrative officer of the Thompson-Nicola Regional District, said the fire spread within minutes and a reception centre was set up in Kamloops while another one was being planned in Merritt.

He said the evacuation order for the village was issued as soon as possible.

“It didn’t matter because people were already fleeing,” he said, adding smoke blanketed the area quickly and structures were burning as residents left.


One Response to “500 Dead in British Columbia Heat Wave”

  1. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    A tiny benefit from all the wildfires that have happened before this: McKay and others in these forested areas are adopting more realistic expectations; they’ve seen the videos of people driving out with fire on both sides, and they might even have a better idea of how quickly a little-used road can become a traffic jam. They’ve already thought at least a little about what they’ll take and what they’ll lose when the warning comes.

    Emergency response people are a bit better prepared, too, of course.

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