ST. GEORGE (ABC4 News) — After a busy Memorial Day weekend for search and rescue teams in Southern Utah, first responders say they’re facing yet another challenge: a heat wave sweeping through the area bringing triple-digit temperatures and significantly increasing the risk of heat related illnesses.
St. George’s elderly, representing nearly 20% of the population, will have a much greater mortality risk during this time, according to officials.
An excessive heat warning issued for Thursday and Friday is going to make it even harder for residents to avoid the reservoirs, parks, and pools, but emergency teams say they’re also seeing huge crowds continuing to hike, bike, and climb and ask people to prepare in case of an emergency.
“History shows that normally when it warms up, our rescues go down,” Washington County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue liaison Sgt. Darrell Cashin tells ABC4 News. “But the calls we do receive tend to be more critical because the people who are lost or injured have been out of water and they’ve often got heat exhaustion and heat stroke.”
The Washington County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue says its volunteers have already responded to a heat-related call on Tuesday after helping a pair of mountain bikers visiting from New York who became lost and ran out of water, unable to continue in the heat.
Rescue crews ask that residents consider the amount of water they think they’ll need in the event of an emergency — and then double it.
“Our search and rescue volunteers are people that just want to help others, so before you go just remember that if you need them, you are taking them away from their jobs, their families, and putting them at risk,” Cashin said. “If you are in trouble and need help, call earlier rather than later.”
Sgt. Cashin said the COVID-19 pandemic has also presented residents with an added challenge: the possibility of people at risk self-isolating in poorer areas of Southern Utah who are more likely to live in less energy-efficient homes and apartments they can’t keep cool.
“If you know someone that’s in that position, make sure you’re checking on them,” he added.
Officials say those seeking refuge on blistering hot days at re-opened malls or libraries will need to keep in mind the current limits on public gatherings, as social distancing continues to remain critical important under the yellow “low-risk” COVID-19 phase.