PHOENIX (AP) — A dangerous heat wave threatened a wide swath of the Southwest with potentially deadly temperatures in the triple digits on Saturday as some cooling centers planned to extend their hours and emergency rooms prepared to treat more people will heat-related illnesses.
“Near record temperatures are expected this weekend!” the National Weather Service in Phoenix warned in a tweet, advising people to follow its heat safety tips such as drinking plenty of water and checking on family members and neighbors.
“Don’t be a statistic!” the weather service in Tucson advised, noting that extreme heat can be deadly. “It CAN happen to YOU!”
About 200 hydration stations distributing bottles of water and cooling centers where thousands of people can rest in air conditioned spaces opened Saturday morning in public spaces like libraries, churches and businesses around the Phoenix metro area.
Charles Sanders spent Friday afternoon with his Chihuahua mix Babygirl at the air-conditioned Justa Center, which offers daytime services to older homeless people in downtown Phoenix. It’s also serving as a hydration station, distributing free bottles of water to the public.
Because of funding and staffing limitations, the center can only stay open until 5:30 p.m., so Sanders, a 59-year-old who uses a wheelchair, has spent the sweltering nights with his pet in a tattered tent behind the building.
““I’ve been here for four summers now and it’s the worst so far,” said Sanders, a former welder originally from Denver.
David Hondula, chief heat officer for the City of Phoenix, said Friday that because of the health risks some centers were extending hours that are sometimes abbreviated because of limited volunteers and money.
“This weekend there will be some of the most serious and hot conditions we’ve ever seen,” said Hondula.
He said just one location, the Brian Garcia Welcome Center for homeless people in downtown Phoenix, planned to be open 24 hours and direct people to shelters and other air conditioned spaces for the night. During especially hot spells in some past years, the Phoenix Convention Center has opened as a nighttime cooling center, but Hondula said he had not heard of that possibility this year.
Stacy Champion, an advocate for homeless people in Phoenix, took to Twitter this week to criticize the lack of nighttime cooling spaces for unsheltered individuals, saying they are “out of luck” if they have no place to go.
In Las Vegas, casinos offered respite from the heat for many. Air-conditioned libraries, police station lobbies and other places from Texas to California planned to be open to the public to offer relief at least for part of the day.
In New Mexico’s largest city of Albuquerque, splash pads will be open for extended hours and many public pools were offering free admission. In Boise, Idaho, churches and other nonprofit groups were offering water, sunscreen and shelter.
Emergency room doctors in Las Vegas have been treating more people for heat illness as the heat wave threatened to break the city’s all-time record high of 117 degrees Fahrenheit (47.2 degrees Celsius) this weekend.
Dr. Ashkan Morim, who works in the ER at Dignity Health Siena Hospital in suburban Henderson, Nevada, spoke Friday of treating tourists this week who spent too long drinking by pools and became severely dehydrated, and a stranded hiker who needed liters of fluids to regain his strength.
About 110,000 people, or about a third of Americans, were under extreme heat advisories, watches and warnings Saturday as the blistering heat wave was forecast to get worse this weekend for Nevada, Arizona and California. Temperatures in some desert areas were predicted to soar in parts past 120 degrees Fahrenheit (48.8 degrees Celsius) during the day, and remain in the 90s F (above 32.2 C) overnight.
The hot, dry conditions sparked a series of blazes i n Southern California, where firefighters on Saturday battled three separate brush fires that started Friday afternoon amid the hottest weather of the year so far. The fires are in mostly rural areas of Riverside County, southeast of Los Angeles.
Phoenix on Friday marked the city’s 15th consecutive day of 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43.3 degrees Celsius) or higher temperatures, hitting 116 degrees Fahrenheit (46.6 degrees Celsius) by late afternoon, and putting it on track to beat the longest measured stretch of such heat. The record is 18 days, recorded in 1974.
The heat was expected to continue into next week.
Regional health officials in Las Vegas launched a new database Thursday to report “heat-caused” and “heat-related” deaths in the city and surrounding Clark County from April to October.
The Southern Nevada Health District said seven people have died since April 11, and a total of 152 deaths last year were determined to be heat-related.
Arizona’s Maricopa County, home to Phoenix, reported this week that so far this year there have been 12 confirmed heat-associated deaths going back to April, half of them people who were homeless. Another 55 deaths are under investigation.
There were 425 confirmed heat-associated deaths in Maricopa County last year, with more than half of them occurring in July. Eighty percent of the deaths occurred outside.
Closer to the Pacific coast, temperatures were less severe, but still have made for sweaty days on picket lines in the Los Angeles area where actors joined screenwriters in strikes against producers.
In Sacramento, the California State Fair kicked off with organizers canceling planned horseracing events due to concerns for animal safety. Pet owners around the Southwest were urged to keep their animals mostly inside.
Associated Press reporters Julie Watson in San Diego. Ken Ritter in Las Vegas, John Antczak in Los Angeles and Susan Montoya in Albuquerque, New Mexico, contributed to this report.