'Heat can be deadly': Health officer issues warnings as temperatures rise again

With temperatures climbing ahead of the August long weekend, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry urged British Columbians to check on elderly and vulnerable friends and family, while civic officials opened cooling centres.

Environment Canada issued a heat warning for eastern Vancouver Island, and special weather statements for Greater Victoria and inland Vancouver Island, which can expect temperatures of 30 C and higher, with overnight lows in the mid-teens. A cooler trend is expected Sunday.

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Henry joined officials from the B.C. Wildfire Service, which is battling 36 major fires across the province, in warning that hot, dry conditions in southern British Columbia could have major implications for increased fire dangers and health risks.

“I want to remind people that heat can be deadly,” Henry said.

Although it won’t be as intense or last as long as the “heat dome” that settled over the province in late June — when Victoria hit its all-time record-high temperature of 39.8 C — this heat wave could have similar effects on vulnerable segments of the population, Henry said.

Preliminary data from the B.C. Coroners Service updated Monday showed 815 “sudden deaths” during June’s heat wave — a 300% per cent increase from sudden deaths that typically occurred in the same week between 2016 and 2020.

On Thursday, the Cowichan Regional District opened cooling centres in Mill Bay, Duncan, Lake Cowichan, Ladysmith, Crofton and Chemainus for people who need to get out of the heat.

Temperatures are expected to go higher than 30 C in the Cowichan Valley, which is expanding a program it started in Duncan in late June.

The district is working with Cowichan Tribes and other organizations and communities to open the doors of arenas and community centres, where water and seating will be provided through most of the day.

“It was a co-ordinated response with our partners to have these places open until Saturday — just spaces to go to cool off,” said John Elzinga, general manager of community services for the regional district.

In Victoria, where temperatures will rise into the high 20s near the water and low 30s inland, the city posted a map on its website, victoria.ca, of drinking fountains and noted its splash pads in Beacon Hill Park and misting stations at Royal Athletic Park.

Henry reminded people to stay hydrated and out of the sun. She said residents should keep blinds and windows closed during the day, wear damp clothing and sleep in wet sheets, and never leave children or pets in vehicles for any length of time.

“If you are wearing a mask and have difficulty breathing, remove it,” said Henry. The heat poses special concern for the elderly and people with health conditions. Symptoms of heat stress range from mild to severe and can “creep up on people pretty quickly,” she said.

Those at greater risk of heat-related illness include infants, young children and those who are 65 or older, people who work outside, those with heart conditions or breathing problems, and those who live alone.

Island Health is relocating all appointments from Langford’s Eagle Ridge immunization clinic to the air-conditioned Victoria Conference Centre today. Everyone affected will be contacted, said Island Health, adding ­anyone who receives instructions to go to Eagle Ridge on July 30 should go to the Victoria Conference Centre instead.

dkloster@timescolonist.com

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