Fair-goers feel deep-fried

103° heat smashes previous Aug. 4 record by four degrees, causes some distress

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor

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As thousands flocked to experience the first weekend of the Clark County Fair on Saturday, the temperature in Vancouver rose to a record 103 degrees. The scorching temperatures helped cause heat-related illnesses for some fairgoers and prompted warnings from experts about the dangers associated with hot weather.

NWS meteorologist Liana Ramirez said the higher-than-forecast temperatures are a result of a stronger flow of hot interior air from east of the Cascade

Range. Such "offshore" flows of air bring hot weather to Western Washington and Oregon. The previous record high for Aug. 4 was 99 degrees in 1952.

Saturday was the first time in more than three years that temperatures reached 100 degrees, Columbian weather blogger Steve Pierce said. The last time it happened was July 29, 2009, when the temperature was 108 degrees -- the highest ever recorded at Pearson Field.

Saturday's extreme heat translated into several instances of heat-related health problems at the Clark County Fair.

By late afternoon, a couple of people had been sent to the emergency room, said Danielle Coates, a registered nurse for PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center. Coates was working at the fair's first aid booth on Saturday, and said a few people passed out from dehydration in the heat.

Others were showing different signs of dehydration, including headaches and vomiting, said Clark County Fire District 6 firefighter Shawn Richey. His crew had received seven calls for heat-related health problems by about 4:30 p.m. Saturday, "but the day is still young," he added. Many of the problems arose after 3 p.m., when the effects of peak temperatures were beginning to take their toll.

"The best thing you can do is make sure you eat a good meal and just hydrate," Richey said. He noted that at the fair, "There's not a ton of shade."

The overnight low for Saturday night was forecasted in the mid-60s, with a high today expected in the mid-90s. Temperatures should moderate on Monday with a greater flow of cooler air from the Pacific Ocean.

John Morrison, the manager and CEO of the Clark County Fair, said extra precautions were taken Saturday morning to make sure the fair participants — and the fair animals — could keep cool. The barns were opened early in the day to increase airflow, and many fans were pointed onto the livestock.

For the human fair participants, three misting stations were placed around the fairgrounds, and more were being built for more hot days this week. The exhibition hall is air conditioned and has a free water booth run by the Clark County Public Utilities District.

On Friday, the Clark PUD gave out 10,200 cups of ice water. By late afternoon Saturday, it had given out more than 15,000 cups, "and we've still got six hours of fair left," PUD customer service representative Nathan Treisch said.

As people walked into the air-conditioned exhibition hall, some sighed with relief. Shannon Weber of Vancouver camped out with her family in the air-conditioned space. They hadn't been at the fair long.

"We just did two rides, and were all red-cheeked and ready for a break," Weber said.

Morrison, the fair's manager, said the number of people at the fair by late Saturday afternoon seemed significantly lower than the more than the roughly 30,000 who showed up Friday. "It is visibly a different day with this heat," he said, but he added that he hoped the attendance numbers would increase in the evening, as temperatures began to ease.

Inside one of the fair's barns, Evelyn Barron of Hockinson stood in front of a fan almost as tall as she is, stretched out her arms and reveled in the cooling air.

"We knew it was going to be this hot, but it feels especially hot," Barron said, adding that she and her relatives have been eating ice cream and drinking plenty of water to try to stay cool.

The NWS heat advisory also warns people who take a dip in area lakes and streams to use extra caution and be sure to wear a life jackets. Many of the fatalities during hot spells in the Pacific Northwest occur in and around water.