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Several heat records broken over weekend as B.C. gripped by heat, fire, flood risk

Heat wave expected to peak today as high temperatures grip across much of the province

Special weather statements covered much of British Columbia’s coastal and interior regions with temperatures soaring above 30 degrees in many communities on the weekend, but meteorologist Louis Kohanyi says they’re expected to peak today.

Several B.C. communities broke temperature records over the weekend, including Agassiz, which hit 31.6 C, breaking a record of 31.3 C set in 2018, while Fort Nelson set a new record of 28.1 C, breaking the old high of 25.6 C set in 1973.

In the Peace region, the regional district says there was “significant fire activity” on Saturday that necessitated evacuation orders and alerts for people near the Stoddart Creek wildfire as well as the Donnie Creek and Tommy Lakes wildfire, but an order was downgraded to an alert for those near the Boundary Lake blaze.

The province’s River Forecast Centre also issued several high streamflow advisories for the Skeena River, the Upper Columbia and East and West Kootenay Rivers, and others as high temperatures accelerated the spring snow melt.

People are being warned to stay away from fast moving waters and unstable banks.

B.C.’s interior has been particularly hard-hit by flooding and fires this spring, such as the Village of Cache Creek which suffered flooding earlier this month that displaced people from their homes and damaged highways.

Unseasonably hot temperatures in British Columbia will persist over the coming days. The weather agency’s statements covering the region warn of daytime temperatures anywhere from 10 to 15 degrees above seasonal norms, but cooling temperatures overnight will provide people with some relief while still being above seasonal averages.

Environment Canada meteorologist Louis Kohanyi said Sunday that the high temperatures are unusual for this time of year, but don’t compare to the heat dome event of June 2021.

“It is a different scenario,” he said. “The heat dome of June 2021, it was really exceptional.”

Kohanyi said the province is still grappling with fire and flood risks in certain areas as the snowpack melts and dry conditions persist, which also elevate the risk of heat-related illnesses.

Environment Canada’s special weather statements for Metro Vancouver and the B.C. interior remain in place while some communities are still dealing with earlier flooding and newly sparked wildfires.

The Peace River Regional District says the region saw “significant fire activity” on Saturday, issuing evacuation orders for dozens of properties in the vicinity of the Stoddart Creek wildfire due to what it calls an immediate danger to safety.

The district also issued an evacuation order for the area around the Donnie Creek and Tommy Lakes wildfire, though it says the area is sparsely populated and mainly used by forestry and oil and gas workers.

The provincial River Forecast Centre issued high streamflow advisories for the Dean and Bella Coola rivers warning of rapidly rising waters, but major flooding isn’t expected.

The centre’s high streamflow advisory for the Upper Columbia, West Kootenay, East Kootenay, and Boundary River also includes the Kettle River, Granby River and surrounding tributaries.

“Snowmelt rates have been increasing over the past two days. In mid-elevation terrain, snowpacks are dwindling, however significant upper elevation snow still remains. Rivers have begun rising, and a continued rising trend in river levels is expected throughout the week,” the advisory says. “However with dwindling snowpack there is uncertainty whether flows will exceed levels previously experienced earlier in May.”

In a flood update Saturday, the Village of Cache Creek says it fixed a water main issue that spurred water restrictions, but kept a boil water advisory in place as sidewalks and roads are still strewn with debris from earlier flooding.

Fraser-Nicola MLA Jackie Tegart with the BC United opposition, whose riding includes Cache Creek, said Sunday that her riding “seems to be the epicenter of any kind of climate change disaster that’s going to happen.”

Tegart said the village and its residents are now dealing with the challenging aftermath of earlier flooding, with damage to the highway snarling traffic as people wait to return after their homes were evacuated.

She said her riding is hit with many seasonal challenges, including flooding as the spring snowmelt begins and then droughts in the summer months, highlighting the need for proper water storage and other mitigation measures.

Other areas in her riding have been devastated in the past, she said, including the fire that razed the town of Lytton in June 2021, and the atmospheric river event that flooded Merritt in November the same year.

As Cache Creek digs out of the most recent flooding and begins repairs on its highways that are essential to provincial commerce, Tegart said weather-related disasters highlight the “need to understand the connection between urban areas and how important the rural infrastructure is to how our province runs.”

“I think we’ve been living through climate change in Fraser-Nicola and what what people in my riding are saying is we’ve had enough talk, we need some action,” Tegart said. “We need some planning done so that we can look at what kind of experiences people have had over the last five to 10 years and how do we as a province start to be proactive.”

READ MORE: Unusually early heat wave in Pacific Northwest tests records

READ MORE: Peace River Regional District lifts evacuation order for residents near wildfire

The swollen Bonaparte River flows past an evacuated mobile home community in Cache Creek, B.C., on Sunday, May 14, 2023. Environment Canada says unseasonably hot temperatures in British Columbia will persist over the coming days, with special weather statements warning of high river streamflows due to melting snow in hard-hit communities in the province’s interior. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck