Officials are warning British Columbians of a heat wave starting over the weekend, but say it won’t reach the extremes of the 2021 heat dome deemed responsible for the deaths of 619 people.
This warning comes as 399 wildfires continue to burn across B.C. with most parts of the province experiencing drought conditions predicted to last into the fall and beyond.
Emergency Management Minister Bowinn Ma Thursday (Aug. 10) issued the warning about the upcoming heat event as part of an update about the latest drought and wildfire conditions. Forests Minister Bruce Ralston, Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and staff joined Ma during the update, which also touched on efforts to help farmers lacking hay.
She said the heat wave is expected to start this weekend over Vancouver Island and the southwest with higher-than-normal temperatures, then move over the Interior through the week. Ma said the temperatures may trigger heat warnings, adding that it could poses risks to some individuals.
“It is not expected to be as extreme as the event we experienced in June and July of 2021,” she said.
Ma noted that days are shorter and nights are longer in August than in June, which allows for temperatures to drop overnight. She added B.C. has learned a lot from the 2021 heat dome, the most significant lesson being that heat-related deaths can happen in Canada.
“Two to three years ago, extreme heat wasn’t exactly seen as a hazard that Canadians could be subjected to,” she said.
But if the expected heat event won’t reach the scale of the 2021 heat dome, officials starting with Henry encouraged British Columbians to prepare for the event by developing a plan for themselves and others.
“So what makes this event is a little bit concerning is the length of time that it is likely to go on,” Henry said. Environment Canada has told provincial officials that the heat will likely start Sunday, Monday and last most of the week, she added.
“So that means that we get that accumulated stress of heat over time and that’s why we need to be concerned for many parts of the province,” she said. While individual effects of the event will vary, it won’t have a major impact on a lot of people, Henry said, pointing to the shorter days and longer nights. “But it is the first prolonged period of heat, we have had this summer for many people, especially in the Lower Mainland,” she said. “We need to be aware, we need to be prepared.”
Henry, however, also said that the health system has learnt a lot from the 2021 heat dome, pointing to additional measures.
“So the message today really is about prevention, but yes, we have a strong response team provincially and each health authority will be looking at where we are likely to see the impacts most, making sure that we have things in place in the community and looking at the health services we need to support if we start to see a surge of people.”
Ma extended Henry’s appeal to other areas in urging British Columbians to conserve water. “Every drop counts,” Ma said in pointing out that more than 80 per cent of the province’s 34 water basins are currently experiencing either the worst or second-worst drought rating.
She also said that that the province has been preparing plans to ship potable water to communities affected by drought in case such measures are needed, without specifying said communities.
She paired these specific comments with general acknowledgment that current drought conditions not only remain “concerning” but “unprecedented.”
“Let me be very candid with you,” she said. “This level of extreme drought has never been seen in this province before. “
She added that it will require all levels of government to work together in ways not done before. “We are largely building the ship as we are sailing it,” she said.
This work happens as local and foreign firefighters from five countries continue to battle blazes across B.C. Ralston said 1,756 wildfires have so far burnt 1.56 million hectares since April 1. While rain has helped crews in some areas, higher temperatures will raise the fire danger across the province, Ralston added.
Ralston said wildfires continue to impact wildlife and humans, pointing out that 660 people are subject to evacuation orders with close to 4,000 people under evacuation alert.