One day after it set Canada’s all-time heat record, a British Columbia village was devoured by flames.
The blaze was a sobering symbol of a hellscape in the Pacific Northwest and western Canada, where hundreds have died and wildfires are erupting as temperatures climb to astonishing heights. One location in Canada’s Northwest Territories, hit 103 degrees Wednesday, the highest temperature observed so far north.
The Lytton blaze prompted a mandatory evacuation order at 6 p.m. local time for the village of 250 people about 150 miles northeast of Vancouver.
“The fire, it took maybe 15 minutes to engulf the whole town,” Lytton Mayor Jan Polderman told NEWS 1130, a news radio station in Vancouver. “People, basically they just grabbed their keys, and ran out the door. That’s how quick the fire happened.”
Canada’s Global News reported that several buildings were destroyed and that an “unknown number of injured residents” were taken out of the village by ambulance.
“The town is about a kilometre [0.6 miles] long and there were flames from one end of town to the other,” Polderman told NEWS11. “I saw it with my own eyes.”
Lytton burned as more than a dozen wildfires erupted in British Columbia amid the most extreme heat wave recorded in the Pacific Northwest and western Canada.
Dry lightning, or cloud-to-ground bolts from thunderstorms producing little or no rain, probably ignited most of the blazes.
Weather satellites sensed hot spots near the ground and revealed massive smoke plumes in the sky, as towering pyrocumulus clouds shot up into the atmosphere.
This heat detection imagery of British Columbia is hard to fathom— US StormWatch (@US_Stormwatch) July 1, 2021
Three absolute infernos are tearing through southern British Columbia, exhibiting very extreme fire behavior and incredible rates of spread threatening many different communities. #BCwx pic.twitter.com/gbRi4CjDDs
The pyrocumulus, billowing clouds that can surge over 50,000 feet high during extreme fire behavior, generated a siege of lightning. Chris Vagasky, a meteorologist with Vaisala, which operates a North America lightning network, tweeted that more than 3,800 lightning events were detected.
Neil Lareau, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Nevada-Reno, tweeted that some of the pyrocumulus reached up to 55,000 feet, infiltrating the stratosphere, which is very unusual and observed only during the most extreme events. For example, it occurred during Australia’s devastating fire season in 2020 when a large enough plume entered the stratosphere to circumnavigate the globe.
“I’ve watched a lot of wildfire-associated pyroconvective events during the satellite era, and I think this might be the singularly most extreme I’ve ever seen,” tweeted Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California in Los Angeles.
Swain noted that the lightning generated by the existing wildfires would likely ignite new blazes.
Blazes erupt amid historically hot conditions
The onslaught of fires occurred on another historically hot day in western Canada, which brought new all-time records.
Heat even surged into Canada’s Northwest Territories where the town of Fort Smith, home to 2,500 people, reached 103 degrees, the world record for warmest temperature north of 60 degrees latitude.
Preliminary, because now it's 39.9°C...— Tyler Hamilton (@50ShadesofVan) July 1, 2021
The triple-digit temperature occurred just one year after a town in Siberia, at 67.5 degrees latitude, logged the highest known temperature north of the Arctic Circle: 100.4 degrees.
Jasper, an alpine town of 4,590 people in Alberta, set an all-time high for a fourth consecutive day Wednesday, reaching 106 degrees. The town, about 225 miles west of Edmonton, stands at an elevation of over 3,300 feet.
“It’s an endless waterfall of records being smashed and it’s not over yet,” tweeted Maximiliano Herrera, an expert on world weather records.
The exceptional temperatures at high latitudes in Canada occurred just a day or two after the most extreme heat recorded in the Pacific Northwest within the contiguous United States.
Some of the most significant records included all-time highs in Portland, Ore., Seattle and Spokane, Wash., which reached 116, 108 and 109 degrees respectively. The states of Oregon and Washington probably both set all-time highs of at least 118 degrees; the National Weather Service is reviewing preliminary data.
“This heat wave in the Pacific Northwest and western Canada is probably the most remarkable weather event I’ve seen,” tweeted Alex Lamers, a meteorologist at the Weather Service.
Quillayute, Wash., smashed its previous all-time high of 99 degrees by 11 degrees, matching the largest margin for breaking such a record observed globally.
“The recent and ongoing heatwave in the Pacific Northwest (in both the U.S. and Canada) is not just another heat wave,” wrote Christopher Burt, an expert on world weather extremes, in a Facebook message. “It is the most anomalous extreme heat event ever observed on Earth since records began two centuries ago.”
Excessive heat warnings remain in effect for large portions of the interior Pacific Northwest, east of the Cascades, affecting 4.5 million people. Spokane, which is within the warning zone, is expected to see highs near 100 through Sunday.
Heat warnings cover much of the western half of Canada from British Columbia into western Ontario.
The exceptional heat is already being blamed for hundreds of excess deaths in the Pacific Northwest and Canada.
In British Columbia, the province’s chief coroner said it had received reports of 486 sudden and unexpected deaths since Friday, compared with about 165 deaths that would typically occur.
Oregon officials have attributed more than 60 deaths to the heat, while there have been at least 20 fatalities in Washington state.
The original version of this article incorrectly stated that the town of Fort Smith in Canada’s Northwest Territories recorded the highest temperature north of the Arctic Circle. Fort Smith actually lies south of the Arctic Circle which begins at 66.6 degrees latitude in that part of Canada. The reference to the Arctic Circle and the Fort Smith temperature has been removed.