The Canadian town of Lytton, which broke temperature records day after day in this week’s heatwave, has been destroyed by wildfire.
“You can’t even comprehend it,” evacuee Edith Loring-Kuhanga told CBC Radio.
“Our entire town is gone.”
Lytton, in British Columbia, was engulfed by a “wall of fire” on Wednesday (local time), mayor Jan Polderman told the BBC.
He ordered people to evacuate as flames spread through the village in just 15 minutes, and said he was lucky to “get out with my own life”.
“People basically just grabbed their pets, grabbed their keys and got into their car and fled,” he said.
Smoke and flames engulfed the village, which is a First Nations community of about 1000 people about 260 kilometres north-east of Vancouver.
“There won’t be very much left of Lytton,” Mr Polderman said.
“There was fire everywhere.”
Lytton is 100 kilometres from the Whistler Blackcomb ski resort and closer to the North Pole than the equator. Yet it broke records for Canada’s highest temperatures this week, with 45.1 degrees on Sunday and 47.9 on Monday. It topped out at 49.6 degrees on Tuesday before the heat eased to 39 on Wednesday.
Lytton’s record temperature is hotter than any temperature recorded in Alice Springs (45.7 degrees) or the notoriously hot US desert city of Las Vegas (47.2 degrees).
British Columbia’s public safety minister, Mike Farnworth, said on Thursday that most homes and buildings in the town had been destroyed and some residents were unaccounted for.
In a social media post on Thursday, local MP Brad Vis said he would skip activities for Canada’s national day because of the emergency.
“There are reports of several injuries. The situation is ongoing,” he wrote.
The British Columbia Wildfire Service said the Lytton blaze was raging out of control over an area spanning about 80 square kilometres.
Several other fires were burning locally and over the border in the US as a heatwave baked the whole region.
Hundreds of firefighters have worked in high heat to beat back three large wildfires in the forests of far northern California, where the flames destroyed homes and forced some communities to flee.
The blazes are ominously reminiscent of the 2020 California wildfire season, which scorched more than 17,000 square kilometres of land, the most in the state’s recorded history.
There have been similarly searing temperatures across swathes of North America this week. In Portland, Oregon, they briefly hit 47 degrees.
Authorities in British Columbia reported 486 unexpected and sudden deaths between last Friday and Wednesday.
The figure, which is likely to increase, is 195 per cent above the usual average for a comparable period, the forensics medicine authority for the province said, noting the sharp increase was related to the extreme heat.
In Multnomah County district in Oregon, which includes Portland, 45 people had died since the onset of the heatwave on Friday, the local forensics medicine authority said on Wednesday.
In Washington state, the number of deaths related to the high temperatures rose to 13, The Seattle Times reported.