Weather Experts: Heat Waves Can Cause Wildfires, Health Problems and Death

Weather Experts: Heat Waves Can Cause Wildfires, Health Problems and Death


WRITTEN BY MCKENZIE JACKSON | CALIFORNIA BLACK MEDIA

(CBM) – It was more than a simple walk in the park for exercisers pacing and jogging around Warner Center Park in the Woodland Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles around midday on July 4.

The weather was “sweltering,” according to one of the parkgoers, an African American man in his 40s who asked to remain anonymous.

“Working out around this time is a way hotter experience than a few weeks ago,” the man continued, adding that this summer continues to get progressively hotter.  

According to weather experts, Californians should not expect a break in the extreme heat any time soon, which will force people in most areas of the state to find ways to cope and manage it.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration meteorologist David Lawrence said most of the Golden State is experiencing a heat wave, which began at the beginning of the month, and could get worse in mid-July.

“The longevity of this particular event is what I’m most concerned with,” he explained. “We will see daytime high temperatures for many interior areas reaching to 100 to 115 degrees each afternoon. Overnight low temperatures won’t provide much relief — only dipping into the 70s and holding into the lower 80s for some locations.”

Lawrence was speaking during a July 2 news briefing focused on the current weather conditions, their dangers, and what Californians need to know to stay safe in the blistering weather this summer.

The online briefing was organized by Listos California, the state’s disaster readiness program, and hosted by Ethnic Media Services and California Black Media. State emergency preparedness officials and a frontline responder spoke during the news conference.

California Black Media Executive Director Regina Wilson said heat waves can create dangerous fire conditions and catapult temperatures in inland areas of the state into the triple digits.

“This level of heat could pose a danger to the entire population if proper heat safety is not followed,” she said. “As we move into the summer season, hotter and drier conditions mean California will likely face higher risk of wildfires — wildfire smoke, heat, power outages and dangerous water conditions.”

The same day as the press conference, the Thompson Fire began blazing in Northern California’s Butte County. At press time, the wildfire had destroyed 25 structures and injured two firefighters. It has been 55% contained.

The French Fire, which sparked up on July 4 in the town of Mariposa in the Sierra Nevada foothills, covered over 1.3 square miles before firefighters tamed the blaze. That same day, yet another fire, the Sharp fire in Los Angeles’s Simi Valley, broke out. It has been 60% contained.

Listos California, the state office in charge of emergency preparedness, has partnered with community groups and offers a resource hub built around an educational campaign to help Californians get ready for disasters related to extreme heat.

Dr. Rita Nguyen, assistant health officer for California and director of population health at the California Department of Public Health, said people underestimate how dangerous heat waves can be.

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“Heat waves kills more people directly than any other weather-related hazard,” she said. A 69-year-old homeless man in San Jose died on July 3 due the extreme heat.

Nguyen added that the state doesn’t have precise data on the number of health emergencies or deaths caused by heatwaves.

She said the people at most risk of experiencing heat-caused health issues include children and infants, senior citizens, pregnant people, people working outdoors or indoors without air conditioning, disabled individuals, unhoused persons, and lower-income people.

“Anyone can be a victim of life-threatening heatstroke because a lot of it doesn’t have to do with absolute temperature,” she explained. “Sometimes, it can be if folks are not acclimated to hot temperatures and there is a fast rise. When the temperature doesn’t cool at night and when it is hot for a long period of time, all these things increase the risk of folks having health-related injuries and potentially death from heat.”

The warning signs of heat illness include confusion, vomiting, passing out, heavy sweating, muscle cramps, weakness, headache, nausea, vomiting, paleness, tiredness, irritability, and dizziness.

Staying hydrated, cool, and informed about the weather forecasts are ways to prevent heat health problems. Nguyen recommended to not drink sugary, caffeinated, or alcoholic drinks, which can dehydrate a person.

California Division of Occupational Safety and Health Program Senior Safety Engineer Charlene Gloriani said, under state law, businesses with employees who work outdoors — such as agricultural workers — are required to give plenty of access to free and clean water and shade to prevent heat-related illnesses.

“Shaded areas must not cause exposure to another health or safety hazard,” she explained. “When temperatures exceed 95 degrees a buddy system should be in place and employees must be monitored for signs of heat illness. They must also be encouraged to drink water. Cool down rest periods are required every two hours.”

Sacramento Fire Department Captain Andrew Ramos noted that people must remember to stay safe while doing activities in waterways such as rivers and lakes when cooling off on hot days.

“We need each and every one of you to be your own safety monitor,” Ramos said while suggesting people wear life jackets. “Look and make sure your family members are wearing their life jackets even if they’re able to swim.”

To get more information on extreme heat and to access resources to help you stay healthy and cool.

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