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Canada Battles More Than 180 Wildfires With Hundreds Dead In Heat Wave

Wildfire burns above the Fraser River Valley near Lytton, British Columbia, Canada, on Friday.
Wildfire burns above the Fraser River Valley near Lytton, British Columbia, Canada, on Friday.

Emergency responders in Canada are currently battling more than 180 wildfires in British Columbia amid an intense heat wave that has left hundreds dead in the Pacific Northwest.

About 70% of the active fires were likely caused by lightning strikes, according to the British Columbia Wildfire Service's dashboard. Chris Vagasky, a meteorologist with the company Vaisala, says a lightning detection network uncovered more than 700,000 lightning strikes in the area between June 30 and July 1.

About 95 miles northeast of Vancouver, residents in the village of Lytton were forced to evacuate to avoid a spreading fire that began Wednesday afternoon.

While two residents have already been confirmed dead by the British Columbia Coroners Service, others are still missing.

For three days, Lytton suffered through record-breaking heat, reaching up to 121 degrees Fahrenheit. Then on Wednesday, the fire started and the village's roughly 250 residents were forced to flee.

Lytton resident Jeff Chapman was with his parents as they noticed smoke and flames in the distance. He helped them climb into a freshly-dug trench, before fleeing when he realized there wasn't enough space. The fire arrived in just 10 minutes, he told the CBC.

He ended up lying near railroad tracks only to watch a power line fall on top of the trench where his parents were.

"I just can't get it out of my mind," Chapman told the network.

Now about 90% of Lytton is burned, according to Brad Vis, a member of Parliament representing the area.

In response to Lytton's devastation, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced federal aid would be sent to help the village rebuild.

The fires come amid a massive heat wave for the region. Extreme heat can intensify the risk of wildfires.

Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner for the British Columbia Coroners Service, said last week in a statement that 486 "sudden and unexpected deaths" had been reported in the last six days of June.

"͞While it is too early to say with certainty how many of these deaths are heat related," Lapointe said, "it is believed likely that the significant increase in deaths reported is attributable to the extreme weather B.C. has experienced and continues to impact many parts of our province."

The coroners service said between June 25 and July 1, 719 overall deaths were reported, which is three times the number that would be expected for the same period.

The U.S. is also being pummeled by heat, with the northwest and north-central U.S. feeling extreme temperatures. Many areas continue to experience temperatures in the 90s and 100s, according to the National Weather Service.

Scientists say the warming climate is making heat waves more frequent and intense. The health risks from them may also be greater early in the summer, when people are less accustomed to higher temperatures.

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