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Canada puts military on standby to evacuate fire-threatened towns

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“We will be there to help,” he told a news conference

At least 152 fires are active in British Columbia province, 89 of them sparked in the last two days, officials say. “These wildfires show that we are in the earliest stages of what promises to be a long and challenging summer,” says a senior minister. (Reuters) Ottawa has prepared to send military aircraft and other help to evacuate towns and fight more than 100 wildfires in western Canada fuelled by a record-smashing heat wave.

According to wildfire officials, at least 152 fires were active in the province of British Columbia, 89 of them sparked in the last two days. Most were caused by lightning strikes.

The fires were located north of the city of Kamloops, 350 kilometres northeast of Vancouver.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met on Friday afternoon with an incident response group that included several ministers. He said he had already spoken with British Columbia's premier, as well as local mayors and indigenous chiefs in communities under threat.

“We will be there to help,” he told a news conference.

That will include military helicopters and possibly Hercules turboprop transport planes, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan earlier told public broadcaster CBC.

Canadian Forces are ready to support residents,” he said in a Twitter message.

The response group announced it would set up an operations centre in Edmonton, where armed forces will be able to provide logistical support. Military aircraft were also deployed to help.

READ MORE: Wildfires rage across western Canada and California amid deadly heat wave

'Long and challenging summer'

The dry conditions and the extreme heat in British Columbia are unprecedented,” said Public Safety Minister Bill Blair. 

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

Roughly 1,000 people have already fled the wildfires in British Columbia, and authorities are searching for many who have gone missing.

The village of Lytton, 250 kilometres northeast of Vancouver, was evacuated on Wednesday night because of a fire that flared up suddenly and spread quickly.

The fire came a day after the village set a Canadian record-high temperature on Tuesday of 49.6 degrees Celsius.

Climate crisis at the heart of it 

Fatalities have been reported in Canada's westernmost province, but an official toll has yet to be released, as members of the British Columbia coroner service headed into hotspots on Friday to begin investigating.

“Today our thoughts are mostly with families that are grieving, that are facing terrible loss,” said Trudeau.

“But of course, we also have to reflect on the fact that extreme weather events are getting more frequent and climate change has a significant role to play in that.”

Meanwhile, a heat wave that stretched at the beginning of the week from the US state of Oregon to Canada's Arctic territories has started moving eastward, late on Thursday touching parts of Ontario in central Canada.

British Columbia also warned on Friday of flooding from melting mountain snow caps and glaciers under the heat dome, which occurs when hot air is trapped by high pressure fronts, heating the ground.

Experts believe the heat wave, which has triggered extreme heat alerts in areas where millions of people live, is caused by global heating. 

The heat has killed more than 700 people in Canada and at least 16 in the United States.

Source: AFP