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Hundreds of deaths as Canadian heatwave shatters records

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau paused to remember the dead during remarks in Ottawa on Wednesday and expressed concern over the fire threat.

“We’ve been seeing more and more of this type of extreme weather event in the past years,” Trudeau said. “So realistically, we know that this heatwave won’t be the last.”

In Washington, US President Joe Biden said climate change was driving “a dangerous confluence of extreme heat and prolonged drought,” warning that the United States was behind in preparing for what could be a record number of forest fires this year.

Smashing records

Lytton, a town in central British Columbia, this week broke Canada’s all-time hottest temperature record three times. It stands at 49.6 degrees (121.28 degrees Fahrenheit) as of Tuesday. The previous high in Canada, known for brutally cold winters, was 45 degrees, set in Saskatchewan in 1937.

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In the US north-west, temperatures in Washington and Oregon soared well above 38 degrees over the weekend. Portland set all-time highs several days in a row including 47 degrees on Sunday.

In Washington state, where media also reported a surge in heat-related hospitalizations, Chelan County east of Seattle topped out at 48 degrees on Tuesday.

Oregon Governor Kate Brown declared a state of emergency due to “imminent threat of wildfires” while the U.S. National Weather Service in Portland issued a red-flag warning for parts of the state, saying wind conditions could spread fire quickly.

The Portland Fire Department banned use of fireworks for the Fourth of July weekend, when Americans celebrate Independence Day.

Fire and melting ice pose risks

Most of Alberta and large parts of British Columbia and Saskatchewan are at extreme risk of wildfires, according to Natural Resources Canada’s fire weather map.

“All the ingredients are there. It’s a powder keg just looking for a spark,” said Mike Flannigan, professor of wildland fire at University of Alberta.

But the Chilcotin region, roughly 600 kilometres north of Vancouver, was on flood warning due to the “unprecedented” amount of snow melting at “extraordinary” rates, according to a government release.

“These are the types of issues that are going to be confronted more and more over the next few years,” said Adam Rysanek, assistant professor of environmental systems at the University of British Columbia.

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