Mid-Columbians try to beat the heat

The heat wave baking the western U.S. hasn't spared the Mid-Columbia, sending residents racing to rivers and pools to stay cool as the temperatures climb into the 100s.

Dr. Amy Person, health officer for the Benton-Franklin Health District, warns that saying hydrated in times of extreme heat is important.

She recommends anyone exerting themselves outdoors -- at work or play -- drink one cup of plain, cool water every 15 to 30 minutes.

"Skip the salt tablets, Gatorade and other sports drinks -- water is what you need," Person said.

If possible, stay in air-conditioned buildings between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when heat tends to peak. That's especially important for the two populations most susceptible to the heat -- the very young and the elderly.

Signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke include dizziness, nausea and a headache. Sweating is a good sign, that's an indication of heat exhaustion, not heat stroke. Get the person out of the sun, have them drink water and rest.

"Someone with those signs who's not sweating and is confused, not responding to verbal commands, is suffering from heat stroke. That's an emergency, call 911 immediately. Heat stroke is not something you can manage on your own," Person said.

Expect little relief from Mother Nature in the next few days. The National Weather Service has issued a fire weather watch for the Mid-Columbia from Wednesday afternoon through Thursday evening. The warning is because of a weather system moving in from the west, bringing the possibility of 10 to 20 mph winds with gusts up to 30 mph combined with low humidity and high temperatures.

Thermometers should get a break toward the end of the week, but not by much.

"Temperatures will be in the high 90s," said Rob Brooks, forecaster in the National Weather Service's Pendleton office. "The coolest day will likely be Friday. It's expected to be only in the high 80s before temps climb again over the weekend.

"What can I say? It's summer in the Tri-Cities," Brooks said.

Temperatures this extreme also affect animals, experts say. At home, the best place for them is inside. If that's not possible, provide them with plenty of cool water and shade.

"Remember, the sun moves during the day, so they may need more than one shady spot and water bowl," said Elaine Allison, operations manager for the Benton-Franklin Humane Society in Kennewick. "Dip your finger in their water, if it's warm they won't drink it."

Heat is hardest on dogs with black coats and squished-in faces, like pugs, Allison said. Providing them with sprinklers or kiddie wading pools helps.

Person and Allison said heat radiating off pavement or asphalt can burn the feet of toddler and dogs. Keep shoes on your kids and dogs on the grass.

"Hot truck beds can burn dogs' feet too," Allison said. "A good rule of thumb is if something is too hot for your hand, or to sit on, it's too hot for your dog."

If you need to run errands in the middle of the day, leave dogs at home and never, ever leave children in the car -- even for just a minute or two.

"Even with the windows rolled down, temperatures inside a vehicle can soar to 150 degrees in minutes, hot enough to kill a pet or small child," Person said.

"A dog's brain begins to cook at 106 degrees," Allison said.

Doug Hagedorn, coordinator for the Richland Parks and Recreation Department, said he has seen a huge increase in the number of people in the parks.

"The river, the pools, they're packed," Hagedorn said. "People who've been waiting for it to heat up so they could swim and get wet, now's their chance."

The shelves at Big Lots in Richland, where cases of water were stacked high last week, are looking bare, said Tim Mitchell, store manager.

"Fans, pools, water, anything swim-related, we'll probably be out of them before the Fourth of July," he said.

-- Staff writer Geoff Folsom contributed to this story.

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