The residents of Lytton, British Columbia were ordered to evacuate after wildfire engulfed the region on Wednesday. The village of roughly 350 people also broke Canada’s record for the highest temperature on Tuesday, a whopping 121.2 degrees Fahrenheit (49.6 degrees Celsius). It was the third day in a row that Lytton experienced over 121 degrees in what has been a record-setting heat wave for the Pacific Northwest.
“It took a whole 15 minutes from the first sign of smoke to, all of a sudden, there being fire everywhere,” the mayor of Lytton, Jan Polderman, told CBC News late Wednesday.
Lytton had been surrounded by two fires earlier in the week, but the fire that overtook the town on Wednesday was an entirely new wildfire, according to Canada’s Global News. It’s unclear what started the fire, but smoke has fueled thousands of lightning strikes in the region.
“The ambulance center is gone, the medical center... the whole Main Street is pretty much toast. So we don’t have a whole lot to go back to,” one resident who was able to escape to the nearby town of Merritt told Global News.
Footage of the burning town was provided to local radio station 1130 AM, which published harrowing video of people escaping in their car. One of the things that has made the fire in Lytton so troubling is that there aren’t many places to escape. The town is pretty much surrounded by fire in all directions.
British Columbia currently has 78 active wildfires, according to the province’s online dashboard, 59 of which started in just the past two days. To make matters worse, high winds in the area (reportedly 44 miles per hour in Lytton on Wednesday night) are helping the fires spread.
British Columbia has been suffering through extreme heat all week, with at least 486 “sudden and unexpected” deaths in the province since Friday, according to the coroner’s office. Typically, about 165 deaths would occur in the province during that same period.
To the south, the U.S. is experiencing similar heat, with at least 63 people dead in Oregon from the extreme temperatures, according to the Oregon State Medical Examiner’s Office. Portland’s temperature has peaked at 116 degrees, less than Lytton, but still dangerously hot.
“It’s just a nightmare… You can’t make this shit up,” local director Steven Rice told 610 AM. “They set the record for highest temperature in Canada three days running, Lytton does, and then on the fourth day, it burns to the ground, the town.”
British Columbia, with its wet climate in the picturesque Pacific Northwest, is pretty much the last place you’d expect to experience 121 degrees. Climate change is devastating areas once thought relatively “safe” from extreme temps. But this is humanity’s new reality, with human-driven climate change pushing us to the brink, proving no one can escape the devastation for long.
Welcome to our new reality. It’s going to get so much worse from here.