Heat prompts struggle to stay cool

Scorching heat drove many Southern Oregon residents indoors again Wednesday, but for people without air conditioners or fans, there was no relief.

"Feels like it's about 100 degrees," said Alexis Winczewsky, 22, of her house, which isn't air-conditioned, near Phoenix. "My boyfriend was putting the ice trays behind the fan to cool it down."

Winczewsky battled Wednesday's record-breaking 109-degree heat with the help of a lot of fans and cool mist from the shower, which she sometimes leaves running when the heat becomes unbearable.

"We rent the house, and I don't want to buy air conditioning for a house that we don't own," she said.

The Salvation Army has been distributing fans to provide relief for people who don't have air conditioning.

As of Wednesday, about 85 fans — some donated, some purchased — had been given to families with young children, pregnant women, elders and people with disabilities, said Jackie Agee, the Salvation Army's local development director.

"As the weather's gotten hotter, we've had more people coming in," she said.

Agee said all the fans they had in stock have been given away, but they plan to purchase more soon with part of a $2,400 donation earmarked for the fan drive, cooling stations and summer camps. So far no one seeking a fan has been turned away, Agee said.

Stores that sell air conditioners were scrambling for more inventory as sweltering shoppers emptied their shelves.

"It's to the point this year where people are uncomfortable," said Bob Seus, general manager of Hubbard's Ace Hardware. "We're selling everything we're getting in.

"It's too hot for a fan to help much," he said. "You really need something that's going to lower the temperature."

Charles Williams, assistant store manager at Lowes Home Improvement Warehouse, said sales of fans and air conditioners typically go up about 90 percent between the third week of July and the second week of August.

"When it gets well over 100 (degrees), that's when you get the massive rush for ACs," he said.

Air conditioners that died in the heat have kept the phones ringing at heating and cooling dealers. At Southern Oregon Heating and Air Conditioning, service calls went from about five calls a day in mild weather to 30 calls a day this week, general manager Mark Westermann said.

"It's crazy right now, especially on the service side," he said, and customers who are overheated aren't always easy to work with.

"When they're hot, they're just as grumpy as bears," he said.

For people who have air conditioning, the trick is to use it without busting the family budget. Trying to keep a house around 75 degrees on a 109-degree day can be expensive. Tom Gauntt, a spokesman for Pacific Power, said there are many things people can do to conserve electricity and keep their homes livable.

"Sometimes the instinct is to turn (air conditioning) off when you're not there, but it takes that much more energy to get it started again," Gauntt said.

He suggested turning the air conditioning up to about 85 degrees when a house is unoccupied to reduce energy use and avoid starting from scratch in an overheated house.

Other tips include making sure all vents are clear to provide maximum circulation; keeping all windows and doors closed; not using ovens, toasters or dishwashers during the day and moving lamps, TVs and warm objects away from thermometer so the temperature reading is more accurate.

Reach intern Teresa Thomas at 776-4464.

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