By Julio Cesar Rivas
Toronto, Jul 4 (EFE).- The heat wave that has been besieging Canada for more than a week continues to set record temperatures in the country’s interior while along the Pacific coast, where some 500 people have already died as a result of the heat, dozens of fires are creating extreme weather conditions.
The “heat dome” – the meteorological phenomenon that at the beginning of last week sent thermometers up to 49.6 degrees C (121 F) in the town of Lytton, in the interior of British Columbia – on Sunday is over the western part of Ontario province in central Canada.
The Meteorological Service of Canada warned that the northwestern part of Ontario is under a heat alert with temperatures between 30-34 C (86-93 F), but the prevailing humidity can make it feel like almost 40 C (104 F).
Meteorologists have said that in the coming hours they expect a wave of cold air to enter the region and alleviate the conditions, reducing the temperature under the “heat dome,” a phenomenon that traps a huge mass of hot air in the upper atmosphere.
Nevertheless, conditions will remain dangerous, especially for the elderly or those suffering from breathing or heart problems. The situation is being aggravated because many homes in the areas under the heat dome do not have air conditioning and are not prepared to deal with such elevated temperatures.
The city of Thunder Bay, where some 110,000 people live, is keeping “refrigeration centers” open until next Friday so that residents can go there to seek relief from the record temperatures.
City authorities have also asked residents to check up on their relatives, friends and neighbors to be sure they are all right.
In British Columbia, since the heat wave began on June 25 more than 500 people have died from the elevated temperatures.
Authorities have said that the number of sudden deaths has risen since then to 719, according to official figures released on Friday, the majority of which were caused by the thermal shock to people’s systems.
The forensic director for the province, Lisa Lapointe, also has acknowledged that in recent days the local emergency services have not been prepared to deal with the magnitude of the weather phenomenon and that the majority of those who have lost their lives are elderly people who lived alone in homes without air conditioning.
One of the concerns now in the regions affected by the heat dome is the air quality due to the dozens of forest fires resulting from the local drought, elevated temperatures and tens of thousands of lightning strikes.
On Sunday, more than 40 active forest fires have been detected just in the northwestern portion of Ontario province and the smoke from those fires has motivated authorities to issue an alert regarding respiratory problems that are cropping up in various towns and cities.
The situation is the same in British Columbia, where firefighters are battling more than 100 forest fires, most of them erupting in the past few days and which have caused a significant reduction in air quality in the interior of that province.
Meteorologists have warned about the intensity of the fires and the quantity of smoke and ash they have put into the air, saying that these factors are creating their own microclimates that are causing lightning strikes that, in turn, are sparking new blazes.
One of the most affected cities is Kamloops, with about 80,000 inhabitants. There, authorities have warned that the city is seeing an elevated risk in terms of air quality and they have advised people suffering from asthma and other respiratory diseases to acquire an extra store of their medications and only venture out on the street wearing facemasks.
One of the forest fires in British Columbia virtually destroyed the town of Lytton last Wednesday, just hours after a new heat record for Canada was set there of 49.6 C.
Authorities in that community on Sunday confirmed that they had discovered the bodies of two people who died when fire destroyed their home.
In addition, on Sunday Canadian army troops began arriving in British Columbia, dispatched there to help with firefighting tasks.