The city of Yakima will offer two of its community centers as refuge from extreme heat in Yakima County in the coming days.
Those who need to get out of the heat will be welcome at the Harman Center, 101 N. 65th Ave., and the Washington Fruit Community Center, 602 N. Fourth St. The Harman Center is open 8 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Saturday. It is closed Sunday. The Washington Fruit Community Center is open 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday.
That leaves a gap on Sunday, but the hours and days could be extended if needed and if the logistics can be worked out, said city spokesman Randy Beehler.
“Is that under consideration? Yes,” he said. “Have we gotten to that decision point yet? No.”
The city also offers free splash-pad water features at Miller and Martin Luther King Jr. parks.
The National Weather Service is predicting triple-digit highs through the end of next week, with several days at or exceeding the previous highest recorded temperature in Yakima, 110 degrees in August 1971.
Gov. Jay Inslee on Friday lifted COVID capacity restrictions for publicly operated facilities and nonprofits used as cooling centers during the ongoing heat wave.
Horace Ward, operations manager for the county Office of Emergency Management, is recommending those in need of air conditioning visit the Yakima Valley Mall or one of the Yakima Valley Libraries locations. The mall, 2529 Main St. in Union Gap, is open 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday.
Hours for the libraries vary by location and are listed at www.yvl.org/about-the-library/locations. All branches have operated under limited hours and capacity since reopening in March, and it is not clear whether that will change to accommodate people who need to get out of the heat. Yakima Valley Libraries Executive Director Kim Hixson did not respond to a message seeking comment for this story.
But Ward, with county emergency management, said that Inslee’s lifting of indoor capacity limits “kind of helps the libraries with a little latitude to increase that as needed.”
Meanwhile, his office is trying to compile a list of privately owned facilities the public could access to escape the heat. And it is working with local police and fire agencies to distribute water, especially to those on the streets during the hottest times of the day.
The Yakima Health District, likewise, is “looking for resources and opportunities we can direct people to,” according to an email from agency spokeswoman Stephanie Badillo-Sanchez. She added that Yakima Neighborhood Health Services has resources available for those experiencing homelessness, including water and motel vouchers. Those in need can visit the service’s Neighborhood Connections Clinic, 102 S. Naches Ave., call homeless outreach at 509-249-6232 or look for the Neighborhood Health homeless outreach van, which distributes water and ice to those in need every day.
Government agencies throughout Western Washington have announced that they’ll open facilities for use as cooling centers. In Seattle, where temperatures are expected to peak at 102 on Tuesday, Mayor Jenny Durkan has announced the opening of 30 such centers.
In Yakima County, we’re more accustomed to such heat, Ward said.
“Here people are generally used to it, especially after a couple of days,” he said.
Used to it or not, extreme heat like we’re going to have over the next week or more “can put everyone at risk from heat illness,” according to a Thursday Yakima Health District news release urging people to stay out of the heat if they can. Those over 65, under 2 or with chronic diseases or mental illness are most susceptible, the release said. Symptoms include dizziness, nausea, headaches and muscle cramps.
In extreme cases, heat can kill. More than 600 people die from it each year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And that could be understated. A Global Change Research Policy study cited by the Environmental Protection Agency puts the number closer to 1,300.
“We certainly do see some 100-degree-plus days, but this will be a longer-duration event,” Ward said. “And, again, as the need comes up we have the ability to open things up to the community,” Ward said.