Crews in British Columbia battled more than 300 wildfires, temperatures in Death Valley, CA hit 130°F/54.5°C, more than 31 million Americans were under heat warnings, and a mega-drought spanned 93% of the western United States, as an entire region of North America faced a second massive heat wave just a bit milder than the last one less than two weeks ago.
In B.C., the provincial wildfire service had seen 60 new blazes begin in 48 hours, with crews “keeping a close watch on 23 fires of note, which are fires that could potentially pose a threat to public safety,” CBC reported late Sunday evening. (Second update in 12 hours: Monday morning, the count was up to 77 new fires, including 25 fires of note, with a state of emergency declared south of Penticton.) The province said nearly half of the fires had been caused by lightning earlier in the week, and on Sunday fire information officer Taylor Colman reported “a fair bit of thunder showers” in the Prince George and Cariboo regions.
On Sunday, Transport Canada ordered restrictions on rail transport through areas in B.C. or anywhere else in the country where the wildfire risk is high.
“The new order, in effect until October 31, calls for at least 10 fire detection patrols every 24 hours on stretches of track that run through Lytton. It also makes conductors responsible for spotting and reporting fires on those lines and requires removal of combustible materials following ‘vegetation control measures’,” The Canadian Press reports. “CN and CP [Rail] must also consult with First Nations governing bodies along the two rail lines to work Indigenous knowledge of the region into their fire hazard reduction and fire preparedness plans.”
In Northern California, The Associated Press says conditions are so harsh that some of the water firefighters are using to try to contain the blazes is evaporating before it hits the ground. The two fires in the Beckwourth complex north of Lake Tahoe, also triggered by lightning, burned more than a dozen homes, forced 2,800 people to evacuate, and closed nearly 518 square kilometres of the Plumas National Forest.
“On Friday, hot rising air formed a gigantic, smoky pyrocumulus cloud that created its own lightning,” AP writes, citing state fire information officer Lisa Cox. “Spot fires caused by embers leapt up to 1.6 kilometres ahead of the northeastern flank—too far for firefighters to safely battle—and winds funnelled the fire up draws and canyons full of dry fuel,” potentially picking up speed along the way. “The flames rose up to 31 metres in places, forcing firefighters to focus instead on building dozer lines to protect homes.”
The Washington Post says four of the eight states that brought the U.S. its hottest June on record—Arizona, California, Nevada, and Utah—are on their way into another heat emergency just a week later. “Extreme heat will significantly increase the potential for heat-related illnesses,” the U.S. National Weather Service warned. “Confidence is very high for a dangerous heat wave to persist through Monday and maybe into Tuesday.”
The extent of the drought parching more than 93% of the western U.S.—with 59% of the area in extreme or exceptional drought—is unprecedented, E&E News reports. The dry conditions are raising concerns for wheat, sunflower, and barley crops and prompting ranchers to sell their herds for lack of feed or adequate forage. Two firefighters were killed in a plane crash in Arizona, California Governor Gavin Newsom asked households to cut their water use 15%, the hot weather and warmer, drier winters were triggering a grasshopper infestation, and farmworkers faced dangerous working conditions in the fields.
“Farmworkers really are at the frontlines of climate change,” said Leydy Rangel, communications manager for the United Farm Workers Foundation. “Unfortunately, that’s an issue that will not get better. We know that heat is the No. 1 cause of weather-related deaths in the U.S.”
Grist reported this morning the U.S. tourists are desperate to return to the country’s national forests…just in time for a hot, dry wildfire season. But “the more people pour out of quarantine and into public lands, the more likely one of them is to accidentally spark a fire. And this year, the risk is perhaps higher than ever before.”
In the aftermath of last week’s heat dome, University of British Columbia marine biologist Chris Harley estimated more than a billion mussels, clams, and sea stars killed along the B.C. shoreline, and predicted similar devastation in the U.S. Pacific Northwest—not only along the coast, but in rivers farther inland. “It just feels like one of those postapocalyptic movies,” Harley told the New York Times. The Independent later said Washington State recorded its most severe glacier melt in a century. The heat was blamed for record water shortages in the B.C. Gulf Islands, earlier, larger fish kills in Alberta, and fruit crops cooked on the vine in the Okanagan and Fraser valleys, with up to 75% of some farms’ output too damaged to sell fresh.
Glaciologists estimated the melt rate in Alberta was three times the usual average, and that B.C.’s 17,000 glaciers faced what CBC calls “harmful implications” due to the heat. “That much energy and that much heat throughout the province over all of the glaciers was quite worrisome,” said Brian Menounos, Canada research chair in glacier change. “The glacier runoff tends to start to supplement some of our headwater streams in late summer, typically end of July. We’re seeing that starting much earlier this year, unfortunately, due to the heat dome.”
In a long read over the weekend, the Toronto Star recapped the human impact of the heat dome in B.C., with more than 800 people now dead after emergency services were totally overwhelmed. The paper said some paramedics are now on stress leave, while others ask what the experience says about the province’s preparedness for a major earthquake.
B.C. Premier John Horgan defended his government’s handling of the devastating wildfire that burned the town of Lytton and nearby First Nations territory, after the area tribal council scorched the province’s slow, chaotic response. The federal Transportation Safety Board opened an investigation to determine whether a spark from a passing train started the fire, an insurance analyst said the blaze could produce nearly C$100 million in claims, thousands of rail cars were idled while the railways inspected and repaired their lines, and the economic fallout in the region surrounding Lytton extended to forestry, ranching, mines, and resorts.