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Difficult days for valley residents

By: Liz Kellar
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It’s Tuesday afternoon and every time I open the door of the office, I’m reminded that it is an inferno out there. According to Accuweather, it might get up to 113 degrees by the end of the day. It must be at 106 by now and, of course, it is smoky. Sounds like anyone’s reasonable definition of hell, doesn’t it? My husband, Tom, and I returned early last week from a very quick trip to North Carolina. We had been worried about the heat and humidity there, even though we were heading to Asheville, which is in the mountains. As it turned out, we found the weather more than tolerable. Although it did get a little bit humid, the temperatures never got above 80 degrees or so. And every late afternoon, almost like clockwork, a 10-minute downpour would clear the streets and cool the air. Before we left, I read on several Web sites that Asheville suffers from some pollution, leading to haziness in the summer. But every morning we woke to beautiful blue skies with puffy white clouds. It got to the point where, on the fourth day, Tom poked his head outside the bedroom window when he woke up and said, “Ah, just another day in Paradise.” Although we came back last Monday night to relatively clear skies, that quickly changed. For most of the week, it has been dangerous out there. We have had a few instances of clearing, but in general, the air has been nearly impossible to breathe. Monday night at approximately 10 p.m. we sat out to have a smoke (yeah, I knew, pretty ridiculous) and it was still unbelievably unpleasant. Of course, it’s not much better inside our house. Our air- conditioning unit blew up two years ago and we haven’t gotten it fixed yet. We have a swamp cooler that does a pretty good job, until it gets above 95 degrees. Then it just blows hot, wet air around. Someone told me to try dropping a block of ice inside the back compartment; I tried it with ice cubes but they melted pretty much immediately. Even the office has not proved to be much of a haven. There seems to be something wrong with our AC, which keeps resetting itself to 85 degrees. And apparently, my office, in the back, is the warmest place in the whole building. The coolest place is the bathroom. If I had a laptop, I would hole up in there and to heck with everyone else. The extreme heat really is not much to joke about. Triple-digit temperatures are not just unpleasant, they can be deadly. During the heat wave of 2006, more than a few elderly people died in Sacramento County. Even though Tom and I are not senior citizens (no jokes please), if the temperature in our house gets higher than 95 degrees, we’re planning on moving out temporarily. Thank goodness there’s a couple of couches available at my in-laws’, otherwise we’d have to check into a motel. It’s worth remembering some common-sense tips for dealing with extremely high temperatures, courtesy of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services: Never leave infants, children or the frail elderly unattended in a parked car. Drink plenty of fluids. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty. Dress in lightweight, loose-fitting clothing. Use a hat and sunscreen as needed. Drink fruit juice or a sports beverage to replace salts and minerals lost during heavy sweating. During the hottest parts of the day, keep physical activities to a minimum and stay indoors in air-conditioning and out of the sun. Use fans as needed. Open windows to allow fresh air to circulate when appropriate. Use cool compresses, misting, showers and baths. Avoid hot foods and heavy meals – they add heat to the body. Eat frozen treats. And, of course, the smoky air is adding insult to injury. Luckily, Lincoln has opened up a “cooling center” at Twelve Bridges Library, a much-needed step to protect those most vulnerable to the hot and smoky conditions. County officials urged residents to keep in mind these recommendations when they are in smoky conditions: Healthy people should delay outdoor strenuous exercise. Using paper mask filters, which are not capable of filtering extra-fine smoke particles, and which restrict airflow, is not recommended. Stay inside with doors and windows shut. Use the recycle or recirculate mode on the air conditioner in your home or car. Avoid cooking and vacuuming, which can increase pollutants indoors. Contact your doctor if you have symptoms such as chest pain, chest tightness, shortness of breath, or severe fatigue. This is important for not only people with chronic lung or heart disease, but also for individuals who have not been previously diagnosed with such illnesses. Smoke can unmask or produce symptom of such diseases. Keep airways moist by drinking lots of water. Room humidifiers might also provide some comfort.