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Evacuations ordered as wildfires rip through Canada’s west coast – Al Jazeera English

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Residents in parts of British Columbia have been ordered to evacuate as wildfires are raging across the Canadian province following a record heat wave that officials say contributed to hundreds of deaths.

Around midday on Saturday, 176 fires were considered active across BC, including 76 that were reported over the past two days, according to a BC Wildfire Service dashboard.

The Thompson-Nicola Regional District, which covers 11 municipalities in the centre of the province, said nine evacuation orders urging residents to immediately leave their homes were active as of Saturday afternoon. Four evacuation alerts, which advise residents to prepare to leave on short notice, were also active.

“Generally speaking, we’re three weeks ahead of our drying cycle,” Cliff Chapman, director of regional operations for the BC Wildfire Service, told reporters on Friday afternoon, as reported by CBC News.

“It is not really comparable to seasons of the past just because of the heat wave that set in in June.”

Chapman said about 12,000 lightning strikes were reported across the province on Thursday alone, CTV News also reported.

The fires come after Canada’s westernmost province experienced record-breaking temperatures over the past week, with the village of Lytton, about 275km (170 miles) northeast of Vancouver in the BC interior, shattering the countrywide record several days in a row.

Lytton ordered a community-wide evacuation after enormous fires broke out this week, forcing residents to flee. At least two people have died, local media reported.

“There was sheer panic,” Lytton First Nation acting Chief John Haugen said, as reported by CBC. “It blew in and just took everything in its path.”

On Friday evening, Canadian Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan said the federal government was setting up an emergency response base in Edmonton, Alberta, to help respond to the wildfires.

“We will position more air resources in Edmonton as quickly as is possible, including a Hercules aircraft & two Chinook medium-heavy lift helicopters. They can be used to provide airlift of firefighters and equipment into & out of affected areas & support evacuations of residents,” Sajjan said on Twitter.

The BC government has also announced disaster financial assistance for local governments and First Nations that have been affected by the blazes.

“As the Premier said yesterday, the provincial and federal governments will be there to help Lytton rebuild the community,” Mike Farnworth, minister of public safety and solicitor general, said in a statement.

Experts have pointed to climate change as driving the early wildfire season and recent heat, which meteorologists said was linked to a so-called “heat dome” – a weather system that traps in hot air – that descended on the west coast, as well as on the Pacific Northwest of the United States.

Officials and residents continue to grapple with the effects of the heat.

BC’s chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said on Friday that 719 deaths were reported between June 25 and July 1 – three times more than would normally occur in a similar period. She said many of the deaths were among elderly people living alone in private residences with minimal ventilation.

“We are releasing this information as it is believed likely the extreme weather B.C. has experienced in the past week is a significant contributing factor to the increased number of deaths,” Lapointe said in a statement.

A wildfire burns outside of the town of Lytton, where it raged through and forced everyone to evacuate, in British Columbia, on July 1 [Jennifer Gauthier/Reuters]

“Some parts of the province are continuing to experience unusually high temperatures, and it remains important that we all take extra care to avoid the dangerous effects of severe heat. Please look out for family, friends and neighbours, particularly those who live alone.”

Colton Davies, a journalist with Radio NL News in Kamloops, BC, said the situation is “very, very dire”.

“Where I am in Kamloops there’s several significant, very large-scale, out-of-control fires that are burning outside of the city limits,” Davies told Al Jazeera on Saturday.

“In the past four days or so, as we’re speaking, more than 75,000 hectares of forest [have] been lost alone from these devastating wildfires.”

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Coronavirus: Canada extends pandemic benefits through to Oct. 23 – CTV News

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OTTAWA —
The federal government is tapping the brakes on its plans to phase out pandemic aid programs this summer, deciding instead to freeze benefits at current levels and extend help by an extra month beyond the previously planned end date.

The decision means that wage and rent subsidies for businesses, and income support for workers out of a job or who need to take time off to care for family or stay home sick, will last until Oct. 23.

Rates for the wage and rent subsidies will hold at current levels until September, holding off on the previously planned decline.

Similarly, the three “recovery” benefits for workers will keep paying out at $300 per week, and four more weeks of eligibility will be added to a maximum of 54 weeks.

The same extra weeks will be available to workers who have exhausted their employment insurance benefits.

The government estimates the revamped aid package will cost an additional $3.3 billion, with two-thirds of that for the recovery benefits, and one-third for the business supports.

As of July 18, the government had paid out $87.1 billion through the wage subsidies and $5.24 billion more in rent relief since the programs launched. As of July 25, the three “recovery” benefits had combined to pay out $26.9 billion.

The Liberals had planned to phase out the pandemic aid, foreseeing enough of a recovery by the fall that many of the measures would no longer be needed.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said Friday that there were still too many businesses and workers who are not fully back on their feet yet, noting that it took the country a little longer to stamp out the third wave of the pandemic than the government expected.

“And I know all of us are watching carefully the Delta variant and are concerned about that,” she said at an event in Hamilton, Ont.

“From the government’s perspective, it is essential to do everything we can to be sure the country’s economic recovery is fast and robust, and that no one is left behind.”

Statistics Canada said Friday its preliminary estimate was that the economy grew by 0.7 per cent in June following two months of declines, and that real gross domestic product grew at an annualized rate of 2.5 per cent in the second quarter.

Total economic activity at the end of June was still about one per cent below pre-pandemic levels, and the labour market was about 340,000 jobs, or almost two per cent, below the levels seen in February 2020.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business said the government’s announcement provides some additional runway for many small businesses still trying to get back to normal sales levels.

The group, which represents 95,000 small businesses nationwide, is also asking for the government to extend the aid until the recovery is more advanced.

“Small firms are keen to replace subsidies with sales, but many firms continue to face a significant lack of demand due to capacity restrictions, border closures and customers hesitant to return to normal activities,” president Dan Kelly said in a statement.

By extending the benefits now until October, and holding the wage and rent subsidies at current rates until September, the Liberals have locked in changes before an expected election call next month that would largely put a pause on policy-making.

They could yet be extended further: Budget measures approved by Parliament in June give the government the ability to extend the aid by one more month, if necessary, to the end of November.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said an extra month of aid, while welcome in the face of the threat of a fourth wave, isn’t enough for people in hard-hit sectors like tourism that may not see a rebound until next year.

“The Liberals are more focused on plunging the country into an election in a pandemic,” he said in a statement. “Canadian families and small businesses don’t need an election now. They need help for as long as we are in a pandemic.”

On Friday, Freeland also made a plea for people to get vaccinated if they are eligible and have not already done so.

“The single most important economic policy in Canada today is for everyone who can get vaccinated to go out and get vaccinated,” she said. “We have done tremendously well, but there’s still that last mile to go.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 30, 2021.

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Canada’s wildfires could cost billions, kill thousands if nothing is done: report – Global News

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Western Canada must urgently address the threats posed by highly destructive wildfires or face deadly and costly consequences, says a group of forest and environmental experts from British Columbia and the United States.

The experts, including Mathieu Bourbonnais, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of B.C. Okanagan, predict devastating wildfires like those currently burning in B.C. will be “commonplace” by 2050.

The group has released a paper predicting billions of dollars spent on suppression and indirect costs from the fires _ as well as hundreds or thousands of premature deaths each year due to smoke exposure _ ifaction isn’t taken to address climate change and the “daunting” scale of fuel, such as fallen trees and dead vegetation, that’s built up.

“If you look at record-breaking seasons, we’ve spent hundreds of millions of dollars on fire suppression,” said Bourbonnais, a former wildland firefighter from Alberta.


Click to play video: 'Concerns about the adverse effects of B.C. wildfire smoke pollution'



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Concerns about the adverse effects of B.C. wildfire smoke pollution


Concerns about the adverse effects of B.C. wildfire smoke pollution

“You can think about, if you spread that out over a couple of seasons, how may communities we could be engaged with on protecting watersheds, protecting drinking water sources, the communities themselves, high-value infrastructure, the ecosystems,” he said in an interview. “By doing that, we’re investing in a future that hopefully we don’t need to spend those kind of dollars on fire suppression.”

The group’s paper suggests creating patches of space in the forest that contain less flammable material, a strategy that can also boost the efficacy of fire suppression efforts, said Bourbonnais.

“Rather than crews responding to a fire with nothing but fuel in front of them, there are natural fire breaks, there’s old prescribed burns that help slow the fire down.”

Read more:
B.C. wildfire update: A pause in rapid fire growth but forecast remains hot and dry

Asked about the paper, the director of fire centre operations for the BC Wildfire Service said there was recognition of the work that needed to be done with communities as well as reducing fuel in the forests following historic wildfire seasons in 2017 and 2018.

“I’m part of many different planning tables and discussions within this province and within this ministry on how do we do this better,” Rob Schweitzer told a news conference on Thursday.

“Through prescribed fire, through utilization of Indigenous traditional knowledge in use of fire, as well as amending our forest harvesting practices and the woody debris left behind, are all pieces that we continue to discuss and actually start to change policy and implement new strategies to help reduce that amount of fuel.”


Click to play video: 'South Okanagan couple loses home to Nk’Mip Creek wildfire'



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South Okanagan couple loses home to Nk’Mip Creek wildfire


South Okanagan couple loses home to Nk’Mip Creek wildfire

About 1,250 wildfires have charred 4,560 square kilometres of bush since the start of B.C.’s fire season in April, compared with the 10-year average of 658 fires and about 1,060 square kilometres burned over the same time period, Schweitzer said.

Three dozen of the 245 wildfires that were burning in B.C on Thursday were considered either extremely threatening or highly visible, including a 655-square-kilometre fire north of Kamloops Lake that prompted an evacuation order for nearly 300 properties.

There were 28 states of local emergency and more than 60 evacuation orders covering 3,443 properties on Thursday. Nearly 90 evacuation alerts covered 17,679 properties, where residents were told to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice, said Pader Brach, executive director of regional operations for Emergency Management BC.

The number of daily new fires has subsided this week, Schweitzer said.


Click to play video: 'Concern over long-term impact of Ontario wildfires'



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Concern over long-term impact of Ontario wildfires


Concern over long-term impact of Ontario wildfires

But higher temperatures are expected to contribute to “severe burning conditions” in B.C.’s southern half, he added. The forecast should bring more fresh air to the Interior, he said, fuelling a “short-lived increase in fire growth” but also aiding firefighting efforts by air, which have been hampered by smoky skies.

The service also anticipates some lighting this weekend, Schweitzer said, and crews are standing ready if new fires start.

Environment Canada issued heat warnings stretching across B.C.’s southern Interior, inland sections of the north and central coasts, as well as the south coast and parts of Vancouver Island. The wildfire service warns the combination of high temperatures and low relative humidity will make fires even more intense.

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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Northern Canada may be a popular destination at the end of the world – CTV News

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TORONTO —
In the event of societal collapse, researchers suggest northern Canada may be “habitable” and could act as a lifeboat, but that other countries are better suited for survival.

The researchers found that Earth is in a “perilous state” due to rapid population growth and an energy consuming society that has altered the Earth’s system and biosphere. They say that societal collapse could happen in various forms, including economic collapse, worsening climate catastrophe, a pandemic worse than COVID-19, or another mass extinction event, which the researchers say is already underway.

The goal of the study, published in the journal Sustainability on July 21, was to create a shortlist of nations that could host survivors in the event of a societal collapse, where civilization could start over. The researchers evaluated the land, how much was available and its quality, how easy or difficult it is to travel to the country, available renewable resources, climate and agriculture, to determine where it would be best to survive the end of the world.

Islands with low population density, particularly those with distinct seasonal changes, fared the best with New Zealand topping the list. Iceland, U.K., Australia (specifically Tasmania) and Ireland made up the rest of the shortlist where it would be best for society to restart after a collapse.

Northern Canada, while not on the shortlist, could act as a “lifeboat” in the event of societal collapse due to climate change and extreme temperatures, but survival would rely on maintaining agriculture and renewable energy sources to keep the population alive.

The researchers showed that the shortlisted countries had strong renewable energy sources, were in temperate climates, and have plenty of agricultural land and space for growth. In the case of Iceland, where suitable land for livestock is not in abundance, this downside is offset by fisheries and the island’s wealth of renewable resources, of which geothermal resources have already been widely developed.

While this may give Canadians living in northern regions a chance to breathe a sigh of relief, there are still zombie fires to contend with as climate change warms the north and shortens winters.

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