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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane hospitals, fire department busy with calls for heat illness; (slightly) cooler weather in forecast for Fourth of July weekend

Spokane Valley firefighters, including Isaac Matt, center, take a break from the near 100-degree heat to cool off in the shade after knocking down a house fire on the 11200 block of East 29th Avenue on Wednesday morning.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
By Sydney Brown and Nico Portuondo The Spokesman-Review

Hospitals and fire crews stayed busy Wednesday as the Inland Northwest baked at well over 100 degrees for a second day, but forecasters say the end of the historic heat that’s kept first responders busy with medical calls could be in sight.

Still, while temperatures are forecast to drop below the record-breaking zone this weekend, dry thunderstorm activity on Friday could bring wildfire risks to the Inland Northwest.

National Weather Service Spokane forecasts temperatures on Friday, Saturday and Sunday to hover at around 100 degrees. While those temperatures may not be record-breaking anymore, they will still be significantly higher than normal for this time of year.

The high Wednesday was 104 degrees, slightly down from the forecasted 108 degrees in Spokane but still enough to smash the former high of 99 degrees for June 30 set in 1924.

The four days of intense heat since Sunday have tied the second-highest number of consecutive days with temperatures reaching 100 degrees set in 1898.

It’s possible that, if temperatures reach forecasted highs on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, the record of six consecutive 100-degree days could be broken.

Wildfire risk may increase due to dry thunderstorms on Friday rolling through areas, including southeastern Washington, the Idaho Panhandle and near the Canadian border, according to the weather service.

While the chances of thunderstorms are relatively low, around 20% to 25%, the potential for any lightning has forecasters on alert. After a week of forests baking in intense and dry heat, lightning could ignite wildfires that would have plenty of dry fuel to spread quickly.

Winds may pick up Thursday and over the weekend, which could initiate red flag warnings over the next few days, according to NWS Spokane meteorologist Laurie Nisbet.

An excessive heat warning for the Spokane area will remain in effect until Sunday.

Here’s a look at the lingering heat wave’s effect on the city.

Heat-related illnesses

The Spokane Fire Department responded to nearly three dozen heat-related medical calls during the peak of the heat wave Tuesday and Wednesday, said Brian Coddington, spokesman for the City of Spokane.

Around half had to go to the hospital, where the number of hospital visits increased by around 15% to 20%, said Greg Repetti, president of MultiCare Valley and Deaconess hospitals. Most visits for heat-related symptoms have been to the ER.

“A 20% increase probably does not sound like a big number, but we were already busy before this … There is always a strain on resources when you have that kind of a jump,” Repetti said.

Repetti said people should remember to hydrate and cool themselves down before they have to call for emergency services.

The city also encouraged residents to take advantage of one of the several cooling centers in town, Coddington said, especially if they lack air conditioning.

The advice came after Spokane Fire Department experienced what Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer said was “10 times” the amount of heat-related medical calls they usually get.

On Wednesday morning, local police and fire responded to the deaths of two residents at the Washington Apartments some witnesses believed were suffering from heat stress, Coddington said. Julie Humphreys, a spokesperson from the police department, said officials cannot confirm heat factored into the deaths until the county medical examiner investigates.

One resident, a male in his 70s, was found deceased when Spokane Fire Department was called to the apartments around 8 a.m. Wednesday, Coddington said. Witnesses told the fire crews they heard that the victim was experiencing symptoms often associated with heat-related illness, Coddington said.

Across the hall, crews also found another deceased resident whose name and assigned sex has not been released. Crews did not find any air conditioning units, Coddington said. If there was AC, it wasn’t on when the fire department arrived, he said.

The Spokane County Medical Examiner has yet to release a cause of death for the victims, but Coddington said they are likely linked to the excessive heat plaguing the Inland Northwest.

This week, Spokane police received seven dead-on-arrival calls, Humphreys said, but there is no way to link those to the heat wave without a full investigation.

“It’s totally unknown how many are heat-related, if any,” Humphreys said.

Still, officials cautioned residents to drink water constantly and avoid going into the sun unless necessary.

“If you know you’re going to be outside, I would start the day early with getting hydrated,” Schaeffer said.

Roads causing sticky situations

The heat has also exhausted the roads, causing closures and detours as Spokane Public Works and Department of Transportation crews work to repair peeled and cracked roads. East Stoneman Road between Market Street and North Argonne/Bruce Road will be closed until Tuesday, according to a release from Spokane Public Works.

Martha Lou Wheatley-Billeter, Spokane County Public Works information and outreach manager, said asphalt tends to soften when exposed to the triple-digit heat Spokane faced this week.

As it softens, oil tends to rise and seep through cracks. The temperature of ashphalt can reach above 150 degrees in extreme heat, Wheatley-Billeter said.

“If that asphalt is too hot to walk on, or too hot for your pets’ paws, then it starts to become kind of sticky,” Wheatley-Billeter said.

Crews started Tuesday night with repairs, using water and sand to reseal the pavement, Wheatley-Billeter said. The city does not anticipate many more major road closures. In the meantime, Wheatley-Billeter said drivers can help maintain the roads by driving the speed limit and not braking or speeding up too quickly.

“We’re hoping that when temperatures come down, hopefully in the next week or so, that we can reopen that road,” Wheatley-Billeter said.

In the meantime, Wheatley-Billeter said drivers traveling through that area should give themselves an extra 10 minutes to account for the detour.

Spokane is not the only area to experience stressed roads. Just north of Colfax, Washington State Department of Transportation East tweeted that the road at milepost 57 experienced blown panels Tuesday afternoon. Crews finished those repairs around 2 p.m. Wednesday, according to the post.

WSDOT also tweeted that the pavement had started to “bleed” and pull up at Sherman Pass on State Route 20 early Wednesday morning, which they were monitoring as of 11 a.m. Wednesday.

Editor’s note: This article was changed on July 1, 2021 to correct the title of Martha Lou Wheatley-Billeter and to correct the temperature Wheatley-Billeter said asphalt could reach in extreme heat.