Canada heatwave: Wildfires spread in British Columbia after lightning strikes

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Media caption,
Watch: Lytton, British Columbia residents flee wildfires

Lightning strikes have continued to spark dozens more wildfires in western Canada following a record-breaking heatwave.

Emergency services say they there are now trying to control more than 170 fires across the province of British Columbia.

Evacuation orders are in place in several areas and military teams are due to arrive in the coming days.

Earlier in the week, people had to flee the village of Lytton.

Lytton, which recorded Canada's highest ever temperature of 49.6C (121.3F) on Tuesday, was destroyed by fire.

The blaze in the village - about 260km (160 miles) north-east of Vancouver - forced many of its 250 residents to leave without their belongings on Wednesday evening.

"Within about 15 minutes the whole town was engulfed in flames," Mayor Jan Polderman told the BBC.

Abnormally high temperatures have been recorded in swathes of North America in recent days.

Experts say that climate change is expected to increase the frequency of extreme weather events, such as heatwaves. However, linking any single event to global warming is complicated.

Cliff Chapman, director of provincial operations for British Columbia Wildfire Service, told broadcaster CBC that about 12,000 lightning strikes had been recorded on Friday, many of them near Kamloops, north-east of Vancouver.

Hundreds of people have been warned they may have to leave their homes.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Authorities in British Columbia have recorded more than 130 wildfires, like this one in Kamloops

Canada's Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said the government would provide aid, including military helicopters and personnel, to help tackle the fires and reach people threatened by the flames.

The blazes have forced the closure of a number of major roads.

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said the weather and the wildfires were having a "devastating" and "unprecedented" impact on British Columbia.

"These wildfires show that we are in the earliest stages of what promises to be a long and challenging summer," he said.

Health officials say extreme heat is likely to have contributed to 719 sudden deaths over the past week.

"Many of the deaths experienced over the past week were among older individuals living alone in private residences with minimal ventilation," Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe said in a statement.

Temperatures have been easing in coastal areas of Canada, but there is not much respite for inland regions. The British Columbia Wildfire Service said it was bracing for more wildfires throughout the weekend.