By Justin Yau
PORTLAND, Ore. (Reuters) – The U.S. Pacific Northwest wilted on Thursday under the latest sweltering heat wave to punish the region this summer, as near-record temperatures strained power grids and drove residents to seek shade.
In Portland, which tied a daily temperature record at 102 degrees Fahrenheit (38.8 degrees Celsius) on Wednesday, city officials opened cooling centers in libraries and schools.
“I have the medical issues and then the heat just intensifies everything. You can’t think straight,” said Tamara Heffler, who would not leave her Portland homeless encampment for a cooling center out of fear that her belongings would be stolen.
“It’s all about cooling down, finding a spot with a little piece of shade, but there is nice people like this you know thank God they have firefighters that care to come out here,” Heffler said, referring to Portland firefighters distributing water at the encampment.
“What we’re trying to do is to go to people instead of having people come to us, and so we found that people are comfortable where they are. They have communities, they have items, and sometimes they don’t want to seek formal shelters.” said Alex Dolle, a 17-year-old volunteer with the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management.
The National Weather Service issued excessive heat warnings for Oregon’s Portland metropolitan area, much of the Columbia River Gorge and Willamette Valley and Washington’s Vancouver area.
“Drink plenty of fluids, stay in an air-conditioned room, stay out of the sun, and check up on relatives and neighbors,” the weather service said.
Oregon Governor Kate Brown has declared a state of emergency. Power grids had so far held up under the strain but local officials urged residents to turn off unneeded appliances during the hottest parts of the day.
The same atmospheric conditions were blamed for a heat wave in July that scorched much of the U.S. West and fueled a string of wildfires that have burned throughout much of the summer.
(This story corrects typo in byline)
(Reporting by Justin Yau in Portland; Writing by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Editing by Aurora Ellis)