When Nicky Fried and her husband arrived in Vancouver from South Africa more than 30 years ago, they didn’t need an air conditioner.
Now they have two, she said on Tuesday as she enjoyed an iced coffee and shade outside a Cambie Street café.
“I don’t think it’s that wildly expensive. They do work and you can sleep in comfort, and you can spend your time indoors in comfort,” said Fried.
Her husband, Hirschel Wasserman, added that air conditioning is “no longer a luxury; it has become a necessity.”
Most of southern B.C. is broiling in a heat wave as temperatures knock down records in some areas of the province that were set almost a century ago.
On Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, an outreach team for the Union Gospel Mission has been working to ensure people are aware and are prepared to cope with the heat spike.
Mission spokeswoman Nicole Mucci said those who are experiencing mental illness, homelessness or who have chronic health conditions are most at risk of illness and death during hot weather.
She said staff have been handing out water, hats and sunscreen and are encouraging people living on the Downtown Eastside to seek out cooling stations during the day and stay in shelters at night.
B.C.’s Ministry of Emergency Management has said this won’t be a repeat of the 2021 heat dome, which claimed more than 600 lives, but it warns people to take precautions to stay out of the heat, drink water and limit activity.
The coroner’s report from the 2021 event said most of the deaths happened indoors and were adults above 60 years old who didn’t have air conditioning. It said the number of deaths for those living in poverty was “lower than may have been expected.”
“It is important to learn from the people living in those areas, such as those living in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver,” the report said. “Lived experience must inform community strategies for prevention from planning through implementation.”
Mucci agreed, noting it is also important to remember that many people in areas such as the Downtown Eastside live in affordable or “precarious” housing, like single rooms, and don’t always have access to fans or air conditioning.
She noted the mission’s housing team has worked to ensure its shelters are equipped with cooling areas.
Mucci said they’ve noticed many groups within the community now watch to ensure residents are prepared and protected.
“Whether that’s folks who are unhoused, folks who are experiencing addiction, perhaps those with mental illness, or those who are maybe elderly or disabled, and just letting them know that hot weather is coming,” she said.
Environment Canada urges people to be aware of heat illnesses and its symptoms, including swelling, rash, cramps, fainting, heat exhaustion, heat stroke and the worsening of some health conditions.
The 10 hottest communities in Canada were all located in British Columbia on Monday and forecasters expected the sizzling temperatures to continue for at least a few more days across the province’s Interior.
The Fraser Canyon communities of Lytton and Lillooet both broke the 40 C mark on Monday, with Lytton reaching 41.5 C and Lillooet slightly behind.
Environment Canada said more than a dozen daily records were set on Tuesday, including 37.5 C in Port Alberni, breaking a benchmark set in 1933, and 30.6 C at Yoho National Park, surpassing a 1930 mark.
The heat is making the situation worse for about 370 wildfires burning in the province. More than 160 of those are considered out of control.
Sarah Budd, an information officer with the BC Wildfire Service, said the greatest risk to the blazes burning in the province will come Thursday when a cold front moves in from the northwest, bringing strong winds, dry lightning and the potential to start more fires, while making the current wildfires worse.
Provincial power utility BC Hydro said Tuesday that it also set a new record for the highest peak hourly demand in August on Monday night.
BC Hydro said in a statement that consumption reached over 8,400 megawatts, with a heat wave usually adding 1,000 megawatts of power use, equal to turning on one million air-conditioning units.
Bulletins from Environment Canada say much of the coastal region will return to seasonal temperatures by Wednesday, but central and southern regions of the province will endure the heat a day or two longer.
Here’s a look at data associated with the hot spell that began Sunday, provided by Environment Canada. Information is correct as of noon Tuesday.
Hottest temperature: 41.5 C at Lytton on Monday
Daily heat records set at B.C. weather stations since Sunday: 26
Hottest temperature at Vancouver International Airport: 24.4 C on Monday
Hottest temperature at Victoria International Airport: 30.5 C on Monday
Hottest temperature in Kelowna: 37.8 C on Monday