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Cooling center protects the vulnerable during the potentially deadly heat wave

PMG PHOTO: PAT KRUIS - The concrete in the structure surrounded by sheer basalt walls create an oven. Pelton Dam often posts the highest temperatures in Jefferson County.

Jefferson County sweltered in a weeklong stretch of 100-degree-plus temperatures. Pelton Dam, always a hot spot, reached 113 degrees on Saturday, July 30, the hottest Jefferson County temperature recorded this past week with the National Weather Service. Yet that scorching heat falls six degrees short of the record at Pelton Dam during last summers heat dome event: 119-degrees on June 30.

Pat Abernathy has one measure for surviving the heat wave. "We didn't lose anyone."

Abernathy works with the Jefferson County Faith Based Network to provide for the homeless in the community. During this extreme heat, the organization set up a cooling center at Juniper Community Church.

PMG PHOTO: JOY DEHAAN - Pat Abernathy hands out water to guest at the cooling center set up at Juniper Community Church for people who have no place to escape from the 100 plus heat.

She counted 76 guests at the center over the six days they held the center open. The organization circulated a van through the area to collect people with no escape from the heat.

She recounts the story of one close call.

"We got a call and picked him up from the street. He was literally unconscious," said Abernathy, who added they gave the man food and drink and let him sleep on a cot under a fan.

"He slept for five hours, and he came back the same day," she said.

When it was time to leave the cooling center, the man said to Abernathy, "I know you saved my life. Thank you."

The shelter, supported on donations, mostly from area churches, depends on volunteers to bring food, water and to staff the shelter.

Guests get food, a cot for naps, movies to watch, and lots of water.

A number of volunteers headed out to known camps with water and food.

"We know we could have lost people. We succeeded in we didn't lose a single person," said Abernathy. "The emotional impact is tremendous."


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