PHOENIX HOT: Plastic and Paint is Melting! Southwest Heat Tests Firefighter Mettle

Arizona is no stranger to heat waves. But even by natives’ own high standards, the past week has been scorching.

The Guinness World Record for hottest temperature ever recorded is 134 degrees Fahrenheit. In Phoenix and Tempe, Arizona, it’s touched 119 degrees and just barely gone below 90 at any point over the past week, according to the National Weather Service.


Record-breaking temperatures across the Southwest are turning up the heat for firefighters battling massive flares, hampering their efforts and presenting a new layer of danger for workers on the fire lines.

Around 200 miles east of Phoenix, where temperatures ranged from 112 to 119 degrees Fahrenheit in the past week, more than 800 firefighters fought the 21,000-acre Frye Fire descending Mount Graham.

Crews working the fire line can only work up to 30 minutes to an hour at a time before they are forced to retreat to cool off, said Brian Oliver, a safety officer for an interagency coalition at Mount Graham.

If they don’t take frequent breaks, crew members risk heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Those conditions can have a mortality rate of 80% for those who don’t get treated immediately, Mr. Oliver said.

“Even walking is difficult,” Mr. Oliver said. “They’re wearing protective equipment that sometimes does not breathe well and usually 50 pounds of gear. … Once you put that gear on you start sweating more as the temperature rises. You get uncomfortable. Then you exert yourself doing arduous labor. It’s an oppressive heat, honestly.”


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