How did Oregon endure the heat? Cooling centers and fire agencies
Throughout Oregon, at least 116 people died from the heat wave that reached 116 degrees in Portland, peaking from June 25 to 28. And the stories of people struggling in the deadly heat are slowly becoming known.
Deja Teal, 20, was driving from Eugene to her home in Bellingham, Washington, on June 25 when her car started to break down on Interstate 5. Teal was able to pull into a gas station parking lot before her car stopped running.
Teal called her grandfather for help, but she was stuck in the sun and heat until he arrived from Vancouver.
Steve Daggett said he arrived to find Teal hot, clammy and unresponsive.
"She was out of it, not thinking clearly and slurring her words."
Daggett rushed to get her into his own truck, blasting the air conditioning and trying to give her water.
"I was 'googling' where the nearest hospital was," he said.
After a little time in the cold air, Teal woke up. Soon she was awake and alert but tired with a brutal headache, Daggett said. He got her home, and after a long rest she was OK.
"It was a scary afternoon," he said. "It went from a recovery of a broken-down car to the rescue of a granddaughter very quickly."
Throughout the metro area and the state, counties and community organizers worked together to set up cooling centers for Oregonians to escape the deadly heat. At some centers, a few individuals arrived already suffering from symptoms of heat exhaustion to the point that organizers had to call an ambulance.
"Some of them we got laid down right away, and they were vomiting and couldn't keep anything down," said Caleb Coder with Cultivate Initiatives, a community organization that ran a cooling center at Sunrise Center in East Portland. Coder helped at the center when it was open, from Friday to Wednesday during the heat wave. The need was massive, he said, since theirs was one of the few cooling centers in the area.
"Our community was able to save lives, and I don't say that lightly," Coder said. "We saw our neighbors completely just at their wit's end, physically and emotionally."
At one point, some people came to the center to say they found someone a couple of blocks away lying on the ground and not moving.
After that, Coder said he and others would walk around the neighborhood, looking for people who didn't realize that a refuge was close by, or people who "literally couldn't make it any farther."
The Sunrise Center provided shelter for everyone needing it, Coder said, from the homeless population to those with inadequate cooling systems in their homes.
Meanwhile, fire agencies across the metro area responded to an increase in heat-related calls during the unprecedented weather.
Data from Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue — which serves a number of cities west of Portland and other sections of Clackamas, Multnomah, Washington and Yamhill counties — shows the agency received no calls for heat-specific health concerns from June 25 to 29 last year. This year, over 50 calls — almost 15% of all calls — to TVF&R during that time were directly related to heat exposure.
Portland Fire & Rescue data shows similar patterns: almost 50 calls between June 25 and 28 were related to heat. That doesn't include calls for other health problems not directly listed as heat exposure.
PF&R spokesman Rob Garrison said miscellaneous and bark dust fire calls also increased during the extreme heat. This pattern, he said, is something he wouldn't expect to see until late July or early August.
"As soon it gets that dry, everything is ready to burn," Garrison said. "And a cigarette butt that might normally burn itself out is going to actually catch some brush or some bark dust or something on fire."
Stefan Myers with TVF&R said it was crucial to keep firefighters cool throughout the weekend, too, especially on fire calls.
"You're wearing, you know, 60 plus pounds of gear, and the environment inside a home (during a major house fire) can get up to 1,200 degrees. It's a pretty challenging environment," he said.
TVF&R addressed the heat wave by rotating out firefighters more frequently and, much like dealing with anyone in the heat, keeping an eye on them and keeping them hydrated, he said.
If a firefighters showed symptoms of heat exhaustion, which just a couple with TVF&R did during the heat wave, Myers said, a medical standby was there to help.
But not all Oregonians received help in time during the heat wave. The 116 heat-related deaths in Oregon includes at least 71 in Multnomah County, 13 in Marion County, 12 in Clackamas County, nine in Washington County and nine split among Deschutes, Columbia, Linne, Umatilla and Polk counties.
While most cooling centers no longer are operating, since temperatures have cooled, libraries and "places to play in the water" throughout Multnomah County can be found here.
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