Tuesday, July 29, 2008

TOP STORY > >Summer heat will get worse

Leader staff writer

The heat wave that has gripped Arkansas for the past week has claimed the life of a 14-month-old Crittenden County girl and will be around for at least another week.

The toddler was found unresponsive and hot to the touch in a mobile home. Deputies are trying to determine if the girl was left in a car or exposed to the heat in some other manner before they arrived at the mobile home.

A chance of rain late Wednesday and Thursday will cause the midweek high to dip to about 94 degrees, but the heat indices will still be in the triple digits. Temperatures are expected to be back at the century mark over the weekend and heat indices around 110 degrees.

So far in July, highs have hit 100 degrees or higher four times and 95-to-99 degrees eight times. This July is averaging about four degrees hotter than last July, according to the National Weather Service.

For most of the week, the state has been or will be orange or red on NWS maps indicating dangerous heat-index values.

Orange means heat indices are in the 100 to 104 degree. Heat cramps and heat exhaustion are possible with prolonged exposure to the heat.

Red indicates dangerous heat indices in the 105 to 114-degree range. Heat cramps and heat exhaustion are likely with prolonged exposure to the heat, with heat stroke possible.

When weather gets this hot, NWS officials say attention should be turned to the elderly, toddlers and animals.

Capt. Dwayne Boswell of the Cabot Fire Department said, “In the past 30 days we have had a significant increase in responses relating to heat-related illnesses and injuries.”

Shirley Renaud, a Cabot Senior Center volunteer, said so far no one has asked for a cooling center.

“But seniors are welcome to come in to sit, relax and watch television. We even serve lunch. If anyone wants to cool off, they can come here,” Renaud said.

Renaud added that if seniors live in Cabot and need a ride to the center, the center would pick them up if they call ahead of time. The number for the senior center is 843-2196.

NWS officials warn that exertion is dangerous during the hottest part of the day from mid-afternoon to early evening.

People who must be in the heat are reminded to stay hydrated, reduce strenuous activity and to be mindful of the symptoms of heat stress, forecasters said.

Monica Brooks, animal-control officer with the Cabot Animal Shelter, said the shelter has received at least two to three calls a week from concerned residents to rescue pets being left in hot vehicles at store parking lots.

“It’s a top priority of the animal shelter to get the animal out of heat,” Brooks said.

“If we get there before the owner comes to their car. We try to notify the store to get the person to come out to their vehicle,” said Brooks.

Sometimes the shelter responds to a call and the pet owner does not come out of the store.

“If the car is locked, we’ll call the police department to open the vehicle. If the vehicle is unlocked we will open the door to remove the dog,” Brooks said. “We bring the animal to the shelter to cool off and to have water.”

The Jacksonville Animal Shelter has also received many complaints concerning dogs left unattended in parked cars, or left outside in extreme heat. As dogs have no sweat glands, even a short time in a hot environment can be life threatening.

Jacksonville has a city ordinance requiring that any animal left outside unattended should have adequate shelter with a roof, bottom, three sides and adequate ventilation, and if temperatures are extremely high, make sure the animal is in a shaded area and has plenty of fresh water.

According to shelter officials, a dog’s normal body temperature is 39 degrees C (102 F). A dog can withstand a body temperature of 41 degrees for only a very short time before suffering irreparable brain damage or even death.

On a hot summer day, the inside of a car heats very quickly. Even on relatively mild days, with the car parked in the shade and the windows slightly open, temperatures inside the car can rapidly reach well over 100 degrees in only 10 minutes.

Dogs and cats dissipate the heat by panting, but in some conditions, that’s not enough to adequately lower their body temperatures. Excessive panting or drooling, vomiting or seizures could mean the animal is suffering from heat exhaustion.

Contact a veterinarian immediately and try to cool the animal down as soon as possible by moving the pet to a shady or air conditioned area, and applying cool (not cold) water or wet towels to the animal to lower its body temperatures, according to officials at the Jacksonville Animal Shelter.

(Jeffrey Smith of the Leader contributed to this article.)