TORONTO — Canadian officials said this week that a blazing heat wave that has shattered one temperature record after the next in the Pacific Northwest is suspected to have been a contributing factor in dozens of deaths in British Columbia and is stressing the province’s emergency resources.
Police in Vancouver said they were redeploying dozens of officers as heat-related deaths strained front-line resources and delayed response times in the city. Since Friday, officers in the city had responded to 98 sudden deaths, including 53 on Tuesday alone. On a typical day, the city said it responds to three to four sudden deaths. Two-thirds of the fatalities were 70 and older.
“We’re saddened to see the toll the heatwave has taken on the community,” the Vancouver Police Department said in a tweet.
Lisa Lapointe, the province’s chief coroner, said in a statement that from Friday, the heat wave’s onset, to Wednesday afternoon, the Coroners Service had received reports of 486 sudden and unexpected deaths — a 195 percent increase over the roughly 165 deaths that would normally occur in the province over a five-day period.
She said the figure was likely to grow, and that resources are under such pressure that there have been delays in coroners responding to the scenes of reported deaths. “While it is too early to say with certainty how many of these deaths are heat related, it is believed likely that the significant increase in deaths reported is attributable to the extreme weather B.C. has experienced,” Lapointe said.
Several major U.S. cities, including Portland, Ore., and Seattle, have broken all-time temperature records amid the “heat dome,” a zone of high pressure that has hovered for days over a large swath of the Pacific Northwest. But residents of British Columbia — Canada’s westernmost province where many people, including the premier, don’t have air conditioning — have been hit hard.
“This is, as I say, another horrific year that we’re not accustomed to in a temperate rainforest,” British Columbia Premier John Horgan told reporters.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday that he had offered federal assistance to Horgan.
“We’ve seen more and more of this type of extreme weather event in the past years,” he said, “so realistically we know that this heat wave won’t be the last.”
Several school districts canceled classes this week. Some facilities canceled vaccination appointments. Residents sought refuge at the beach or in air-conditioned hotels.
The temperature in Lytton, a village 161 miles northeast of Vancouver, B.C., hit at least 120 degrees Tuesday afternoon, setting a national record for Canada for the third day in a row — surpassing the highest temperature ever recorded in Las Vegas. On Wednesday, the entire village of some 250 people was being evacuated because of explosive wildfires.
Officials this week imposed a campfire ban amid fears that the sweltering temperatures meant there was an elevated risk for dangerous wildfires. Evacuation orders were issued for several homes in other communities in the B.C. Interior threatened by fires that were growing rapidly. The B.C. Wildfire Service said suppression efforts were hindered by the heat, which forced multiple helicopters to shut down because of overheating engines.
The B.C. government also issued a flood warning for the Upper Fraser River, saying that the unprecedentedly high temperatures had “triggered an astounding amount of snowmelt.”
Environment Canada said on Wednesday that while the intense heat would start to lessen in some parts of British Columbia, temperatures would continue to be unseasonably warm there for the rest of the week. Heat alerts warnings remained in effect in much of the province, as well as Alberta and Saskatchewan.
In the United States, officials said a dozen deaths in Washington and Oregon could be tied to the extreme heat, the Associated Press reported.
Scientists say human-caused climate change has made unprecedented heat waves such as this one more probable.
Across British Columbia, first responders said the heat wave was stretching their resources.
Vancouver Police Department Sgt. Steve Addison said this week that many of the calls are coming in the morning when family members and friends are checking in on their loved ones.
“The vast majority of these cases are related to the heat,” Addison said. “We’ve never seen anything like this, and it breaks our hearts. If you have an elderly or vulnerable family member, please give them a call or stop by to check on them.”
This report has been updated.