Thursday, 29 Jul 2021

Heatwave continues in US, Canada as fires raze towns

LOS ANGELES • The western United States and Canada started this week with scorching temperatures, with heat warnings still in place and the authorities struggling to bring wildfires under control in both countries.

Sweltering conditions hit much of the Pacific seaboard and as far inland as the western edge of the Rocky Mountains over the weekend, amid warnings from the US National Weather Service (NWS) of a dangerous heatwave. It said temperature records would likely be broken, forecasting highs of 52-54 deg C in California’s Death Valley, often the hottest place in the country.

The NWS said temperatures would dip slightly from yesterday, but added: “This small relative cool-down is of little relief to areas that have seen long-term oppressive and above normal temperatures. Excessive heat warnings remain in effect for a majority of locations through Tuesday.”

Canadian meteorologists have predicted highs near 32 deg C would continue in parts of western Canada yesterday, well above seasonal norms.

A fire in northern California continued to grow overnight on Sunday, spurred by the heat and increased winds. The authorities said they had received reports of homes destroyed in multiple towns and urged residents to stay away, with footage from the area showing burnt-out abandoned cars and houses.

Large areas of forest in Beckwourth appeared to be on fire, with clouds of smoke rising above the hills. In Oregon, the Bootleg Fire more than tripled in size between last Friday and Sunday, gaining more than 40,000ha, the US Forest Service said.

In Canada, more than 50 new wildfires have erupted in the past two days. Transport Minister Omar Alghabra on Sunday announced new emergency measures aimed at preventing further wildfires in the tinder-dry region, including steps to slow or limit train traffic.

Trains are a common cause of wildfires, often when their spark-arresting devices are poorly maintained. Several roads and highways in the area have been closed as the government rated the wildfire risk in much of the province as “extreme”.

A dozen towns or locales remained under evacuation orders. The government has sent investigators to the town of Lytton, 250km north-east of Vancouver, to see whether a passing cargo train might have caused a late June fire that destroyed 90 per cent of the town.

As of Sunday night, the number of wildfires across the province of British Columbia was continuing to rise, the authorities said.

The weekend’s hot weather followed a heatwave that struck the same regions at the end of June. A study by a group of leading climate scientists found that those conditions would have been “virtually impossible” without human-caused climate change.

The World Weather Attribution group said global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions made the June heatwave at least 150 times more likely to happen.

The scorching conditions saw the all-time record daily temperature broken three days in a row in British Columbia. Last month was the hottest June on record in North America, according to data released by the European Union’s climate monitoring service.

The past six years, including 2020, have been the six warmest on record.


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