Deaths Spike in British Columbia Amid Western Canada Heat Wave

More than 100 deaths in British Columbia have been linked to a heat wave that has roasted parts of western Canada, broken previous national heat records three days in a row and sent thousands scrambling for relief.

Lisa Lapointe, British Columbia’s chief coroner, said 233 deaths had been reported over four days, between Friday and Monday afternoon, while typically about 130 deaths would be reported in the same time frame. Deaths were expected to increase, she said.

“͞Since the onset of the heat wave late last week, the BC Coroners Service has experienced a significant increase in deaths reported where it is suspected that extreme heat has been contributory,” she said in a statement.

Heat-related illnesses are also soaring in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. Portland, Ore. — where temperatures have reached a record 116 degrees Fahrenheit — has seen more than 500 heat-related emergency room and urgent-care visits since June 25, according to the Oregon Health Authority, and as many as 250 on a single day.

Earlier this year a study found that 37 percent of heat-related deaths could be linked to climate change. Global warming has raised baseline temperatures by nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit on average since 1900, experts say.

“Climate change is increasing the frequency, intensity, and duration of heat waves,” said Kristie Ebi, a professor in the Center for Health and the Global Environment at the University of Washington. “When you look at this heat wave, it is so far outside the range of normal.”

In Canada, John Horgan, the premier of British Columbia, said on Tuesday that “the big lesson coming out of the past number of days is that the climate crisis is not a fiction.”

The heat wave in Canada has presented an additional public health concern even as authorities are still grappling with the challenge of the coronavirus and Canadians are just beginning to enjoy some of the pleasures of summer as restrictions ease.

On Tuesday, for the third consecutive day, British Columbia shattered its previous extreme heat record; the temperature in Lytton, a small town in the province, climbed to just over 121 degrees.

Such is the heat that some Vancouverites have fried eggs on their terraces. Others have traded in their sweltering homes for air-conditioned hotels or moved their home offices to shady places in their gardens.

The sizzling temperatures have also imperiled the crops of farmers in British Columbia, wilting lettuce and searing raspberries.

Capturing the national mood, Lyle Torgerson posted a video on Twitter on Sunday showing a bear and two cubs taking a dip in his backyard pool in Coquitlam, British Columbia. “The heat is unbearable, but if you take a quick dip you’ll survive,” he told The New York Times in a message on Instagram.

The Vancouver Police Department has dispatched dozens of additional officers to help deal with the situation, it said in a statement. While police usually attend to three to four sudden deaths a day, on average, the department said it has responded to more than 65 such calls since Friday, with 20 of those on Tuesday.

“We’ve never seen anything like this, and it breaks our hearts,” said Sergeant Steve Addison in a statement, noting that the extreme heat appears to be a contributing factor to most of the cases.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Surrey, a municipality in metropolitan Vancouver, said in an email that it had responded to 35 sudden deaths in a 24-hour period.

The wildfire service of British Columbia was also coping with effects of the heat wave, grappling with overheated helicopter engines as it tried to contain severe wildfires. One had spread over about 5,700 acres as of Tuesday night, at Sparks Lake, about five hours northeast of Vancouver.

Before this week’s record-breaking heat, the last time Canada saw the mercury rise to similar heights was on July 5, 1937, when the temperature hit 113 degrees in rural Saskatchewan.

Winston Choi-Schagrin contributed reporting.


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