Heat warnings cover most of B.C., as records set, Metro Vancouver air quality falls

·4 min read

VANCOUVER — High temperatures across much of British Columbia this week have seen communities step up measures to offer relief, in the aftermath of last year's heat dome crisis.

Cooling centres, misting stations and other measures have been put in place as local and provincial government officials implement hot weather protocols stemming from the 2021 emergency that caused 619 deaths, according to a B.C. Coroners Service review.

The City of Victoria said Wednesday it was opening three public cooling centres for the first time, in light of a heat warning issued by Environment Canada. The city is also operating 14 misting stations.

City spokesman Bill Eisenhauer said the protocols are in response to provincial heat alert policy and the heat dome review.

Daytime highs are forecast to reach 31 C for the next few days in Greater Victoria.

The City of Burnaby says it is operating four cooling centres, two pop-up outdoor cooling stations and misting areas at parks.

"Hot weather can be deadly, especially for seniors, infants and people with pre-existing health conditions," said a City of Burnaby statement.

"It’s important to know what resources are available, and to have a plan in place to keep you, your family and your loved ones safe. Drink water, stay cool, know the signs of heat stroke and heat exhaustion, and check in on vulnerable family, friends and neighbours," said the statement.

Vancouver says it has opened 20 cooling centres and numerous misting stations.

Increased use of mobile cooling centres for vulnerable people was among the recommendations of the coroners service review.

Most of the heat-dome victims identified by the review were elderly or vulnerable people living alone in buildings without air conditioning. The review said 98 per cent died indoors and most lived in socially or materially deprived conditions.

The province published its Extreme Heat Preparedness Guide recently to provide a road map to families and communities to prepare for heat emergencies.

"The extreme heat event of 2021 is a stark example that our climate is changing, and we must prepare for the expectation that these events will become more frequent, longer and hotter in the decades ahead," says a guide statement by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. "With careful planning and preparation before the next big event, we can collectively identify those at higher risk and use some simple strategies to help them stay safe."

Environment Canada says 14 heat records were set around the province on Tuesday, from Prince Rupert to Bella Bella, Ashcroft and across the Fraser Valley and south coast.

The oldest record to fall was in the Agassiz area of the Fraser Valley, where the mercury hit 36.5 C, almost one degree higher than the previous record set in 1899.

B.C. also claimed the top seven hottest locations in the country Tuesday, including Lytton, which was the hot spot in Canada at 40.2 C.

It's the first time this year that B.C. has officially seen the heat climb above 40 C, although the scorcher was not a record for Lytton, which set the country's all-time high temperature of 49.6 C last year during the heat dome event, one day before a wildfire destroyed the village.

In addition to ongoing heat warnings of temperatures up to 41 C for much of the central and southern Interior, and conditions only slightly cooler elsewhere in B.C., the weather office is maintaining air quality advisories for eastern parts of Metro Vancouver, the lower Fraser Valley and the Fraser Canyon.

Forecasters say sunlight is reacting with pollutants to create high concentrations of ground-level ozone east of Vancouver, potentially causing breathing difficulties for pregnant people, children, outside workers or anyone with conditions such as lung disease or asthma.

Smoke from a nearly 24-square-kilometre wildfire burning northwest of Lytton has also prompted Environment Canada to maintain a smoky skies bulletin for the Fraser Canyon.

The agency says air conditions, especially over eastern Metro Vancouver, likely won't improve until after the weekend.

The B.C. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is meanwhile advising animal owners to leave pets at home when running errands, saying temperatures in parked cars can rapidly reach levels to seriously harm or kill pets.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 27, 2022.

The Canadian Press

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