Public health and safety officials are warning of health risks and fire danger during a heat wave predicted for this weekend.

Near critical fire weather expected

Persistent dry conditions throughout northern Minnesota will mix with unseasonably warm temperatures, low relative humidity, and gusty winds resulting in near-critical fire weather through the weekend, according to the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center (MIFC).

Wildfires under these conditions can easily start and spread quickly, especially in the already dry northern forested areas. The MIFC urges everyone to be careful with any potential heat source that can cause a spark.

“Minimal precipitation throughout northern Minnesota brought little relief over the spring, and we are entering summer under higher fire danger conditions in northern Minnesota,” said Travis Verdegan, a MIFC fire behavior specialist. “The appearance of green-up is deceiving as many areas in the north are now two to three inches below average for rainfall.”

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Verdegan says more extreme wildfire behavior has been reported from recent wildfires than typically occurs this time of year due to the dryness. He anticipates high fire danger will continue into the summer season as abnormally dry conditions linger.

Fire prevention is everyone’s responsibility. When conditions are this dry, any source of fire, even debris burns and campfires, can quickly turn into an escape wildfire.

  • Don’t burn debris.

  • Keep campfires 3 feet in diameter by 3 feet high or smaller.

  • Remain with your campfire until it is out cold. Keep a hose or enough water and a shovel nearby to drown-stir-repeat until cold enough to touch.

  • Be aware, sparks from gas-powered engines (including lawnmowers and ATVs) near dry grass or other vegetation can easily ignite a wildfire.

If you do spot an escaped wildfire, don’t hesitate, call 911.

Heat stroke and heat exhaustion

In a press release on Thursday, Essentia Health urged caution in case of excessive heat this weekend.

Reporting that temperatures were expected to soar into the upper 90s and even reach 100, the release said these conditions would be ripe for heat-related illness such as heat stroke or heat exhaustion.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), signs of heat exhaustion include heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, tiredness, weakness, dizziness, headache, upset stomach or vomiting and fainting.

Meanwhile, heat stroke symptoms include high body temperature (above 103 degrees); red, hot, dry skin with no sweating; rapid, strong pulse; throbbing headache; dizziness; upset stomach; confusion and passing out.

Anyone observing these warning signs should seek immediate medical attention, the Essentia release advised. If you’re caring for someone awaiting medical help, there are several ways to provide relief:

  • For heat stroke, move the person to a shady area but do not give them fluids. Use a cool, not cold, bath or shower. Spray with a garden hose or sponge with cool water. Fan the person, with the aim of getting their body temperature below 102 degrees.

  • For heat exhaustion, treatments include cool beverages, resting in an air conditioned room, taking a cool bath or shower, and providing lightweight clothing.

There were an average of 702 heat-related deaths per year in the United States from 2008 to 2018, according to a CDC report.

Infants, young children, elderly people and those with chronic medical conditions are especially vulnerable. Check on them and be proactive to ensure their safety.

“Make sure you are not spending prolonged periods of time in direct sunlight,” said Jaclyn Hughley, a nurse practitioner at Essentia. “Heat stroke can kill or cause damage to the brain and other internal organs. While it mainly affects people over the age of 50, it can often impact young people as well.”

Remember, leaving children and pets in cars can be deadly. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 52 children died of vehicular heat stroke in 2019. The NHTSA also reports the temperature in a vehicle with closed windows can increase by as much as 19 degrees in just 10 minutes. They advise never leaving a child or pet in a vehicle, even with the windows down.