About 1,000 people were evacuated in western Canada, authorities said on Thursday, as fires raged amid an unprecedented heat wave, charring most of at least one town, while in northern California, hundreds of firefighters were battling wildfires in high heat.
British Columbia had recorded 62 new fires in the past 24 hours, British Columbia Premier John Horgan told a news conference.
“I cannot stress enough how extreme the fire risk is at this time in almost every part of British Columbia,” Horgan said.
The town of Lytton, 250km northeast of Vancouver, “has sustained structural damage and 90 percent of the village is burned, including the center of town,” local MP Brad Vis said.
The village’s 250 residents were evacuated on Wednesday evening, one day after it set a Canadian record high temperature of 49.6°C.
The evacuation order was later extended to residents of about 100 properties north of Lytton.
“The last 24 hours have been devastating for Lytton residents,” Canadian Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan wrote on Twitter, adding that the Canadian armed forces “are ready to support residents as we move forward in the next steps.”
Provincial authorities have not yet announced any injuries or deaths related to the fires, a number of which were also clustered north of Kamloops, about 150km northeast of Lytton.
Early on Thursday evening, British Columbia fire authorities said that the unprecedented hot and dry conditions had led them to expect another difficult day ahead.
Environment Canada said in a bulletin for the Prince George area that “an exceptionally strong ridge of high pressure over British Columbia will continue to bring record-breaking temperatures over the next couple of days.”
In the US, firefighters worked to beat back three large wildfires in the forests of far Northern California, where the flames destroyed several homes and forced some communities to evacuate.
Mount Shasta, a volcano that towers over the region, was shrouded in a haze from smoke plumes that could be seen in images from weather satellites in space.
The scene was ominously reminiscent of last year’s wildfire season, which scorched more than 17,000km2 of land, the most in the state’s recorded history.
An extraordinary Pacific Northwest heat wave that extended into the upper reaches of California was slowly receding, but it was only expected to cool off slightly before temperatures trend back up heading into the Fourth of July weekend, forecasters said.
“It is very hot and dry,” said Suzi Johnson, a Shasta-Trinity National Forest spokeswoman for the Salt Fire, which broke out on Wednesday and grew to 18km2, shutting several lanes of Interstate 5 and prompting evacuation orders for some roads in Lakehead, an unincorporated community of about 700 people.
A reporter for the local daily Redding Record Searchlight saw at least a dozen buildings destroyed south of Lakehead, including homes, garages and outbuildings, it reported.
Johnson told the newspaper that investigators were trying to locate a vehicle that might have started the fire near Interstate 5 when hot pieces or parts apparently flew off and ignited dry brush.
About 300 firefighters battled the blaze, but were hampered by hot weather and challenging terrain, officials said.
Additional reporting by AP
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