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Firefighters Watch for Heat Related Illness, Push Hydration as Triple Digit Temperatures Persist

As hot weather continues to plague the Northwest, officials are on the lookout for heat-related illnesses among wildland firefighters.

At an early morning briefing for the Silver Lake fire outside Spokane, Operations Chief Cody Montgomery gives a reminder.

“So, let’s keep hydrated, a whole lot of water, a little bit of Gatorade,” he told crew leaders.

This week, temperatures across the northwest have shattered records. It was 104 degrees in Spokane on Thursday – the hottest recorded for that date since 1898. Triple digits have been recorded from the east side of the Cascades all the way across Montana.

As an engine pulls out for a day of firefighting, a stack of bottled water almost five feet high had all but disappeared.

Officials on the Silver Lake fire outside Spokane have been ordering 30 cases of water a day for just over 100 people. And once they’re out, firefighters will take mandatory breaks as often as every half hour.

“It feels heavy like heavy blanket coming down on you…” said Jonas Smith, a firefighter from Seattle.

Eric Sadlon, also from Seattle agreed. “You feel yourself get a little sluggish and you’re just like ‘ok, it’s pretty warm out here. It’s time to take a break,’” he said.

Smith says the heat did get the best of him on a fire once before.

“All of a sudden I just had the worst headache,” he said, “…and nausea and I had been drinking water, but with the tiredness, the exhaustion, the heat, everything…”

Across the West, wildfire officials are trying to raise awareness and keep track of illnesses like heat exhaustion and heat stroke on the job.

A cold front is expected to move across the region this weekend. The good news is high winds associated with cooler weather will blow out wildfire smoke that’s blanketing the region. The bad news is those winds, and possible thunderstorms may exacerbate fires.