Editorials

Heat can be a disaster if we’re not prepared

Family and friends carry Henry ‘Hank’ Taylor to his final resting place at Fresno Memorial Gardens Cemetery on Aug. 3, 2006 in Fresno. Taylor was one of 26 Fresno County residents who perished in the horrific 2006 heat wave.
Family and friends carry Henry ‘Hank’ Taylor to his final resting place at Fresno Memorial Gardens Cemetery on Aug. 3, 2006 in Fresno. Taylor was one of 26 Fresno County residents who perished in the horrific 2006 heat wave. The Fresno Bee File

We’ve learned the terrible lesson that heat waves can’t be ignored.

The forecast is predicting temperatures of 103 degrees – and higher – through Sunday.

After the horrible heat wave of 2006, even the most fit Valley natives know to take special care. Ten years ago in mid-July, temperatures topped 100 degrees 10 days in a row; they never dipped below 80 at night. In those 10 awful days, 26 people perished in Fresno County.

The heat wave took a toll elsewhere, too. Throughout California, the 2006 heatwave resulted in 655 deaths and over 16,000 excess emergency room visits, according to the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.

The prolonged high temperatures hit those over age 80 hardest; but those ages 50 to 59 suffered the second-highest toll.

They didn’t die because they were too dumb to stop working; not a single death was attributed to strenuous activity, wrote the California Department of Health. The greatest predictor of death was living alone.

Many of those who died didn’t have air conditioning. But a surprisingly high number of those who perished did have AC. They just didn’t turn it on, perhaps out of fear they couldn’t afford a high electricity bill. The average indoor temperature of a dwelling where a death occurred was 103.5 degrees, said the California Department of Health.

The horrific death toll prompted state agencies and county emergency offices to do everything possible to understand the crisis. They vowed to be better prepared for the next heat wave; now most are.

We know, for instance, that many of those who died had been in contact with family, neighbors or social workers before succumbing. That tells us it’s not enough just to check in. In some cases, you might have to take action – insist that the person leave a hot house for a cooling center. Even an hour of cooling can make the difference.

No one expects this heat wave to be as bad. And we are better prepared.

Every Valley county now offers “cooling centers,” from shopping malls to civic centers to hospitals. A list of cooling centers in Fresno and Madera counties is available at www.fmaaa.org/CoolingCenters.htm.

Fresno cooling center facilities, however, will not open until the weather service in Hanford forecasts 105-degree days, said Steve Primavera, a Fresno recreation supervisor. On those triple-digit days, the centers will be open from noon to 8 p.m.

We’re not forgetting the animals. Hundreds of thousands died in 2006, overwhelming rendering facilities. Since then, most farmers have installed misting devices, capable of handling the kind of heat we expect over the next few days.

What no living thing can endure is being locked inside a car on a hot day. It is utterly essential that parents never, ever leave a child locked inside a car; it can become a death sentence. The same goes for pets. If AB 797 passes, and we hope it does, good Samaritans would be allowed to break a window to free a trapped animal (after calling authorities).

Heat waves are as dangerous as flooding, tornadoes or hurricanes. And they are sneakier. You can see the rain falling; you can’t see heat rising. But if we take a few precautions, and take care of each other, we’ll weather this wave.

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