Wednesday, August 02, 2006

TOP STORY>>Firefighters taking heat precautions

IN SHORT: July saw six triple-digit days and heat indices in the 100s most days.

Leader staff writer

Temperatures topped 90 degrees on 24 days in July, meaning the heat index was in or near triple digits, and the heat wave is expected to continue at least through the week.

The actual temperature broke the century mark six times during July, hitting as high as 104 degrees on July 19, 20 and 21 and setting records on the 19th and 21st.

But despite the heat here and nationwide, area fire departments had no heat-related runs.

“Luckily we had no major fires during the month,” Jacksonville Fire Chief John Vanderhoof said.

Assistant fire chief Mark Smart, with the Cabot Fire Department, echoed those sentiments. “It’s been amazing how light our July calls were. Normally were out constantly chasing grass fires,” Smart said.

Vanderhoof said his firefighters are prepared for the hot weather. “We make sure there’s extra ice water on the trucks and we have access to misters. We’ve just got to use common sense in weather like this,” the chief added.

Smart said his department is limiting the amount of outside work for the firefighters. “And when we are on scene, we try to have enough personnel there to rotate in and out.”

Jacksonville did have about 200 ambulance runs during July, and several of them were to respond to individuals suffering from possible heat exhaustion on Little Rock Air Force Base’s flightline where the heat index exceeded 120 degrees. “Overall, we’ve been real lucky,” Vanderhoof said.

Smart said his department has assisted on some heat-related ambulance calls. “Nothing serious, thank goodness,” he said.

Capt. John Sawyer with the Sherwood Fire Department said his department had no heat-related calls in July. Sherwood, like Jacksonville and Cabot, is carrying ice chest and extra water on the trucks. “We are telling firefighters to make sure they hydrate themselves and to keep an eye on each other,” Sawyer said.

The hot, dry weather has put Pulaski and Lonoke counties under a burn ban and the National Weather Service’s long-term forecast calls for drought conditions to continue through October for central and southern Arkansas.

Precipitation in central Arkan-sas is about two inches below normal for the year.

Overall, July’s average high temperature of 94.5 degrees was about two degrees above the long-term average and the rain total was about a half an inch.

July started off with 90-degree plus days, but July Fourth was a comfortable 88 degrees, and temperatures remained in the high 80s through July 7. On July 8, the temperature hit 90 degrees and stayed above 90 degrees through July 22. For most of those 15 days the temperature hover over or near 100 degrees.

On July 29, the temperature soared near 100 degrees again and has been holding steady. Forecasts call for high 90s through the rest of the week. Surprisingly, the wettest day of the month also turned out to be one of the record-setting heat days. On the 21st, when the mercury hit 104 degrees, the local area also had about a half-inch of rain. Area fire chiefs recommend that everyone check on their neighbors, friends and family, especially the elderly and the young during extended periods of hot weather.

Even though there is a fire burn ban on, the fire departments still advise everyone to be careful with cigarettes as a burning or hot cigarette can ignite dry trash and grass along the roadway.

Also check for metal dragging from vehicles as it can cause sparks and start fires.