Canada has announced new measures to prevent forest fires during periods of extreme heat, after a historic heat wave last month sparked dozens of large fires on the country’s west coast, including one that has burned down an entire village.
In one declaration On Sunday, the Federal Department of Transport said train operators should reduce train speeds when temperatures exceed 30 degrees Celsius, and ensure trains do not run with combustible materials that could start a fire.
Drivers will also be required to spot and report fires along their routes, among other measures which the federal government said took effect Sunday at midnight PST (07:00 GMT).
“Unprecedented weather conditions in British Columbia continue to pose a serious threat to public safety and rail operations,” Transportation Minister Omar Alghabra said in the statement.
“The Government of Canada remains committed to supporting those affected by the devastating forest fires in British Columbia and will not hesitate to take the necessary safety measures to mitigate these risks to public safety and the integrity of the railways and infrastructure.
The announcement comes after temperatures soared in Canada’s westernmost province late last month. Officials said the heatwave contributed to hundreds of deaths, especially among the most vulnerable elderly.
The village of Lytton in central British Columbia has broken Canadian high temperature records three times, reaching 49.6 ° C (121.28 ° F). A huge forest fire erupted soon after, forcing hundreds of residents to flee, destroying most of the community and killing at least two residents.
“We are a small community that has been devastated and we are all still reeling from the destruction of our homes, the tragic loss of life and the enormous impact this will have on us, both personally and financially. , for years to come, “he added. the village said in a statement on July 6.
He said several months of drought conditions along with a blowing wind fueled the blaze, which ravaged the community, burning homes, businesses and infrastructure, “at a ferocious rate.”
“A few buildings have survived in town, but almost all the houses in the center of the village have disappeared. Where there were many buildings, there is only charred earth, ”the statement said. “The infrastructure has been destroyed. What has not been melted down, incinerated or irreparably damaged has been compromised to the point of being dangerous.
Experts have pointed out that climate change is a factor that has exacerbated extreme weather events such as forest fires, heat waves and tropical storms.
Brian Wiens, managing director of Canada Wildfire, a research consortium, said the recent heat wave on Canada’s west coast was linked to what has been called a “thermal dome” – hot, dry air that covered a large area and raised temperatures.
“What this does is it creates a situation on the ground where you have virtually no precipitation, you have high temperatures, you have very low humidity and as a result all of your fuels start to dry out very, very. quickly, ”Wiens told Al Jazeera in an interview. last week, ahead of the government announcement on Sunday.
This meant that forest fuels – from grasses to large logs – became extremely flammable.
“It also happens very early in the season. Very, very hot and dry weather is not unusual from the end of July to August in British Columbia in particular and in Alberta as well… but it is stronger and earlier than we have seen before ”, Wiens said of the weather system last month. “That’s the kind of thing you’d talk about a 1,000-year rollback period.”
He said many forest fires in British Columbia have been started by lightning, although when the forest is extremely dry, “it doesn’t take much to ignite it.” He also said that the fact that temperatures remain above the range considered typical for an extended period was a “pretty strong indication that we are seeing evidence of climate change here.”
“This is exactly what we predicted… that if you have climate change, you have more extremes and you have more risk. This is certainly what we are seeing in BC right now.
The western United States also experienced a heatwave last month, as wildfires burned in California and Nevada, among other states, over the weekend as temperatures rose again.
The National Weather Service’s (NWS) Weather Forecast Center said on Twitter Friday morning that “record heat” is expected to affect “much of the west and southwest,” with more than 31 million people under a excessive heat warning or heat advisory.
Experts have urged US President Joe Biden to adopt an ambitious long-term strategy to reduce the risk of devastating wildfires amid scorching heat and drought in several states.