July 8, 2008

Feeling the Burn

By Keith Reid, The Record, Stockton, Calif.

Jul. 8--The combination of wildfire smoke and a heat wave, which forecasters predict will bring temperatures as high as 108 degrees to Stockton this week, has prompted Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to activate California's plan for excessive heat emergencies.

The state's heat emergency plan is designed to raise public awareness, open state-owned facilities as cooling centers and make sure hospitals are prepared to care for people susceptible to heat-related illnesses.

Two cities in San Joaquin County -- Lodi and Tracy -- will open cooling centers today for those without air conditioning. However, the San Joaquin County Office of Emergency Services says the heat index has not yet boiled to the point of opening cooling centers elsewhere. There are no similar plans for Manteca or Stockton, but parks and recreation officials countywide moved Monday's planned outdoor activities inside.

"We don't have to (open cooling centers) locally," said Art Bentley of the county Office of Emergency Services. "The state could come in and open a cooling center at the fairgrounds on its own, but I haven't heard of that yet."

Bentley said cooling centers can get political. Last year, the county opened cooling centers, and nobody showed up, he said.

"You gather the manpower and food, and then people would rather just stay home," Bentley said. "If it's a mandatory thing -- if the heat index really gets to a point where you have to move people -- we'll participate."

Experts say people without air conditioning shouldn't hesitate to find a place to keep cool this week, in part because the Valley's smoke-filled air is expected to move into the unhealthy range as temperatures rise.

County skies are expected to become clouded today and Wednesday with smoke from raging wildfires in Nevada and Placer counties, said Shawn Ferreria, a senior air quality specialist with the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.

Valley residents could be breathing air categorized as "very unhealthy" by Wednesday, in part because of record-high temperatures.

"The way it looks, we have a high-pressure system rebuilding over the region, creating a stronger lid that will trap the pollutants," Ferreria said. "We have signs that could prompt us to issue a health caution."

Ferreria said he anticipates the air quality to go from "moderate" Monday to "unhealthy" today to the possibility of "very unhealthy" on Wednesday.

National Weather Service forecaster George Cline said residents should expect triple-digit temperatures every day into the weekend.

"It's going to stay hot," Cline said, adding that smoke-filled skies could bring projected high-temperature forecasts down slightly.

For people who do experience heat-related symptoms -- such as cramping or heat exhaustion -- the American Red Cross advises sitting in a comfortable position and drinking a half-glass of water every 15 minutes.

Contact reporter Keith Reid at (209) 367-7428 or [email protected]


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