Week of Monday, July 19, 2021 | Issue 21
Sam Shames, Chandlyr Mickan, Emergency Management, Health, and Hazards (EMH2) Team
Wildfires in Canada
Date: July 21, 2021
Location: British Columbia, Canada
Parties involved: Canadian National Government; Residents of British Columbia; British Columbia Wildfire Service; Oliver Local Government; Local Fire Departments; Law Enforcement Agencies; Osoyoos Indian Band; Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre; Local Medical Facilities and Emergency Response; British Columbia Coroners Service; British Columbia Public Safety Minister and Solicitor; Canadian Red Cross
The event: On Tuesday, July 20, 2021, British Columbia, Canada declared a two-week-long state of emergency due to a series of deadly wildfires that have been burning across the province. Evacuation orders have displaced nearly 6,000 residents as hundreds of wildfires continue to burn over 3,000 square kilometers this season. Fires located on Osoyoos Indian Band land are rapidly spreading due to the dry climate and strong winds, affecting both Oliver and Osoyoos residents. These wildfires are extremely concerning as it is only the middle of the fire season in Canada, suggesting that there will potentially be many more in the coming months. Firefighters and local authorities are on high alert as even a small shift in the wind’s direction can completely change the course of these wildfires, putting other nearby regions at risk for evacuation.
Journalists are reporting that residents who have evacuated their homes are scrambling to find shelter as nearby hotels are reaching capacity. This may lead to overcrowding at hotels or other shelters, which provides an opportunity for a COVID-19 superspreader event. With thousands of evacuees in close quarters for a potentially extended period, the highly transmissible COVID-19 Delta Variant could easily spread across a large group of people. As a result, there is a high likelihood that the number of infected residents requiring medical attention will increase as a result of the wildfires. With hospital staff already overwhelmed from a surge in COVID-19 cases, the further spread of the virus places more demand on hospital resources, ultimately putting pressure on the healthcare system.
One of the major concerns regarding wildfires is that they produce large amounts of smoke that greatly impact air quality. Residents of British Columbia, especially children and the elderly are at increased risk of inhaling unhealthy quantities of smoke that may cause respiratory or cardiovascular issues. This is particularly concerning right now as COVID-19 is a respiratory illness, and additional stress on the heart and lungs may decrease an individual’s ability to fight off infection. Pressure on the local healthcare system is likely to increase as hospitalizations in the region may increase due to evacuees and nearby residents suffering from increased respiratory problems due to smoke inhalation.
Wildfire season in Canada runs from April until September. Since it is only July, local authorities and firefighters are concerned that British Columbia may be at risk for additional deadly fires. Climate conditions have not been in their favor; high temperatures, dry climate, lack of rainfall, and strong winds can quickly exacerbate small wildfires. In addition to causing residents to evacuate, additional wildfires would be extremely stressful to firefighters. They would be spending extended periods in the field which can ultimately have an extremely detrimental effect on their physical and mental health. Physically, they would be placing their bodies under extreme duress in an attempt to quickly contain the fires and prevent further fires. Additionally, they would likely spend a lot of time in smoky environments, increasing their risk of respiratory and cardiovascular illness. Time spent away from friends and families can also take a mental toll on firefighters, which can impact their quality of work.
Date: July 21, 2021
Location: Zhengzhou, Henan Province, China
Parties involved: Residents of Central China; Chinese Government; Local Emergency Services; Local Law Enforcement; Humanitarian Organizations; Local Businesses; Public Transportation; People’s Liberation Army; Farmers/Producers; Provincial Weather Bureau; Ministry of Emergency Management
The event: Heavy rain in Henan Province, China has caused severe flooding and the evacuation of over 100,000 residents across the region. There have been over 25 reported deaths as the floodwaters broke down dams caused landslides and even flooded subway stations. While the rain has subsided, hundreds of people are still missing and thousands are seeking emergency shelter as their homes were destroyed. The People’s Liberation Army is working on search and rescue, which will likely continue over the coming weeks as they will have to wait for water levels to subside to complete their operations. Climate experts in China claim that these are the heaviest rains China has experienced in over 1,000 years, prompting further discussions about the detrimental impact of climate change on society.
The floods have damaged infrastructure in the region, including roads, telecommunication structures, and hospitals. Destruction of roads and telecommunications structures makes it more difficult for emergency services to reach those injured, potentially placing their lives and others at risk. Additionally, damaged telecommunications structures make it difficult for them to communicate, thus complicating rescue missions and placing both emergency services and flood victims at risk. Finally, the destruction of roads may make it difficult for residents to access healthcare services after the floods have subsided. As a result, they could fail to seek treatment for their injuries or other ailments, leading to poor health outcomes.
Heavy rainfall and flooding often leave behind pockets of standing water. Since standing water creates an environment conducive to mold and bacteria growth, flooding is often accompanied by the spread of infectious diseases. Specifically, Dysentery, a highly transmissible infection that can lead to severe dehydration, is increasingly present in Henan Province after flooding, making it a public health issue in the region. Additionally, there is an increased risk of contracting Dysentery considering many residents are without running water, which is likely to cause people to become moderately to severely unwell, and in some cases could be fatal. An outbreak of Dysentery may also cause multiple issues for medical and emergency response groups, such as facilities becoming overcrowded and employees contracting the illness themselves. Hospitals in particular would be likely to experience difficulties in providing care to increased patients while adhering to COVID-19 prevention efforts. To prevent the growth of Dysentery, emergency responders should work to drain pockets of standing water and work with humanitarian organizations to provide clean water to residents.
Ongoing rainfall and incoming typhoons will likely make it difficult for water drainage and the complete recovery of structural damage. Evacuees may not be able to return to their residencies for several weeks, as roads remain flooded and water damage can make housing uninhabitable. Long-term shelter, food, and water should be available for displaced citizens, as well as resources for government and humanitarian aid in the recovery and rebuilding processes. Local Police and emergency response efforts may need assistance from centralized agencies, such as the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Civil Affairs, as resources are spread thin between back-to-back disasters.
 B.C. declares state of emergency as wildfires grow, forcing more evacuations, CBC, July 2021, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/osoyoos-wildfire-july-20-1.6109437
 Wildfires: Information & Facts, Canadian Red Cross, July 2021, https://www.redcross.ca/how-we-help/emergencies-and-disasters-in-canada/types-of-emergencies/wildfires/wildfires-information-facts
 At least 25 dead as China's Henan province deluged by heaviest rains in 1,000 years, Channel News Asia, July 2021, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asia/china-henan-floods-death-toll-displaced-15258658
 “Effects of the floods on dysentery in north central region of Henan Province, China from 2004 to 2009,” Journal of Infection, 2014, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0163445314001686