AS a dangerous heat wave continues to engulf much of the western US, doctors are warning that sidewalks and roads could get hot enough to cause serious burns – or even death.
Around 50 million Americans – an eighth of the population – are currently under extreme weather warnings because of the historic heat dome, including in California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona.
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Amid the soaring temperatures, which are expected to top 110F in a number of states this weekend, the Arizona Burn Center has issued a warning that some surfaces can reach as high as 180F in the sweltering sun.
Both Arizona and Nevada are on course to break all-time state record highs this week.
The National Weather Service is predicting temperatures to reach a staggering 117F in Phoenix on Thursday. Hundreds of heat records could be eclipsed in other states too.
"We've had quite a few patients over the last week or so," Arizona Burn Center director Dr. Kevin Foster told CNN. "It's hard to tell if our numbers are going to be the same as they were last year.
"Last year was really unusually – and somewhat startlingly – busier than we had been in previous years," he added.
According to Foster, typically the center sees patients who have burned their feet by doing innocuous activities such as running to the mailbox with no shoes on, not realizing how hot the ground outside is.
The most serious injuries, he said, result from people falling on the hot ground as they're out in the sun.
The most commonly affected group are the elderly, who either trip or collapse as a result of dehydration or an underlying medical condition.
Also at risk are people who are impaired by substance abuse or those who have suffered some form of traumatic injury.
"All it takes is going down for a short period of time and the inability to get up and you end up with somebody with not only deep burn, but oftentimes a burn that covers a fair amount of the body's surface area," Foster told CNN.
Last year, Foster said the center treated 85 patients for burns caused by hot pavements. Of those 85, 30 percent required ICU care and 20 percent were put onto medical ventilators.
Seven of the patients died from their injuries, Foster said.
Such burn injuries are also incredibly common in Las Vegas, where the mercury is expected to reach 114F on Thursday.
Foster advised that the best way to protect yourself is to stay out of the sun when temperatures are at their peak – typically from late morning to mid-afternoon.
"If you do have to go outside, make sure you're well-hydrated, make sure you have protective clothing and shoes or sandals on," he told CNN.
"It's a good idea to be with somebody just in case something does happen."
But it's not just roads and sidewalks people she be cautious of, Foster added.
Other surfaces such as leather car seats, door handles, and steering wheels can cause burns.
Dog and cat owners should also be watchful of their pets, he said.
Foster's warning came as the heat wave in the West entered its sixth day on Thursday.
A hot air mass has spurred highs to reach into the 90s and triple digits across the majority of the West throughout the week, already eclipsing records in Wyoming, Arizona, Southern California, and Utah.
Death Valley, which holds the hottest record on Earth with a reading of 134 degrees in 1913, established a new daily record of 125 yesterday.
The National Weather Service in Flagstaff noted it was likely that nearly the entirety of Arizona set a new record high on Wednesday.
In Tuscon, temperatures reached 110F or above for the fifth straight day in June. That streak is expected to reach the longest ever recorded there – at least eight days.
"Residents enduring the abnormal heat are urged to stay hydrated and avoid extended periods of time outdoors if possible," the Weather Service said.
Las Vegas also hit 116F yesterday, just one degree shy of its hottest temperature ever recorded.
With the relentless heat set to continue through the weekend, officials in Texas in California have urged consumers to conserve energy this week to reduce stress on the grid and avoid outages as homes and businesses crank up air conditioners.
“The public’s help is essential when extreme weather or other factors beyond our control put undue stress on the electric grid,” said Elliot Mainzer, CEO of the California ISO, which operates the grid in most of California.
The ISO said its Flex Alert, or call for conservation, “is critical because when temperatures hit triple digits across a wide geographic area, no state has enough energy to meet all the heightened demand.”
"The evening is the most difficult time of day for grid operations … because demand remains high as solar energy diminishes," it said.
Over the past year, both Texas and California imposed rotating or controlled outages to prevent more widespread collapses of their power systems.
In Texas, which imposed controlled outages after its brutal freeze in February, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) expects demand on Thursday to break the June record set on Monday.
Multiple brush fires have also ignited near San Jose, California, and over 100 firefighters have been dispatched to contain them. Currently, around four million Americans are under red flag warnings.
Climate experts have raised concerns that the blazes breaking out so early into the fire season means California will suffer another record-setting wildfire season in 2021.
However, there is relief in sight. The scorching temperatures are due to subside early next week and return to average or even below-average levels in some parts of the region.
But some experts have warned Americans will have to get used to these freak weather events, as they could become the new norm as part of global warming.
“Heat waves are getting worse in the West because the soil is so dry” from the region's megadrought, said Park Williams, a fire and climate scientist at the University of California, told NBC.
“We could have two, three, four, five of these heat waves before the end of the summer.”
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