Fire fears after record heat in Canada, US

Temperature reords
Temperature reords "are being annihilated" in western Canada thanks to a stubbon dome of heat.

A heat wave that has scorched much of western Canada and the US northwest has eased after smashing temperature records throughout the region this week, but officials are still bracing for more sizzling weather and the threat of wildfires.

Deaths soared in the Canadian Pacific coast province of British Columbia in recent days. Cities in the US states of Washington and Oregon shattered record highs for temperature for days.

US officials blamed the heat for a handful of deaths. In Canada, at least 233 people died in British Colombia between Friday and Monday, about 100 more than the average for a four-day period, the BC Coroners Service said.

Lytton, a town in central British Columbia, this week broke Canada's hottest temperature record three times. It stands at 49.6C as of Tuesday. The previous high in Canada, known for brutally cold winters, was 45C, set in Saskatchewan in 1937.

In the US northwest, temperatures in Washington and Oregon soared well above 40C at the weekend. Portland, Oregon set record highs several days in a row including 47C on Sunday.

The heat dome, a weather phenomenon trapping heat and blocking other weather systems from moving in, weakened as it moved east, but was still intense enough to set records from Alberta to Manitoba, said David Phillips, senior climatologist at Environment and Climate Change Canada, a government agency.

"In some of these places, their records are being annihilated," Phillips said. "It really is spectacular, unprecedented for us."

It was unclear what triggered the dome, but climate change looks to be a contributor, given the heat wave's duration and extremes, Phillips said, also noting it set new temperature highs a month earlier than the usual hottest time of year.

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

"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 heat wave won't be the last."

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

Elderly people, along with children and the chronically ill were especially at risk, said BC's chief coroner, Lisa Lapointe. Advocates warned that migrant workers were particularly vulnerable, especially inside greenhouses.

The extreme weather poses different threats depending on the region.

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.

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.

Australian Associated Press