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Summer Heat Dangers: How Hot Can Outdoor Surfaces Get?

While heat ramps up across the West and spreads into the Midwest and Northeast, keep in mind that children and pets are at risk for severe burns due to hot outdoor surfaces.

Heat has been baking the West as an area of high pressure dominates, with highs climbing past 100 degrees in the Desert Southwest and highs well into the 90s across much of the rest of the West. A heat wave is gripping areas as far north as Colorado and Wyoming, where many record highs have fallen over the past couple of days.

Denver is among the cities that has been challenging record highs the past several days with thermometers registering in the 90s. On Sunday, the high climbed to 98 degrees, breaking the old record high and rising nearly 10 degrees above normal. The heat wave will continue through the middle of the week.

The high in Phoenix has been soaring to 110 degrees or higher since Aug. 15, and the streak of 100-degree temperatures is expected to persist through Friday.

Meanwhile, summer heat and humidity are returning to the Midwest and Northeast. While record highs are not expected to be challenged, highs will soar well into the 80s for major cities such as Chicago, Detroit and New York City this week. Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., are predicted to hit 90 degrees by Thursday.

During summer heat, playground equipment can reach temperatures of 120 to 130 degrees F, Tom Kalousek, a certified playground safety instructor with the National Recreation and Park Association, said. By comparison, an egg fries at 157 degrees.

"Younger children, especially under five years old, can suffer second- or third-degree burns in a matter of moments," Kalousek said.

The youngest are more susceptible because their skin and tissue are much softer than teenagers or adults.

"They take their shoes and socks off and use their hands and feet to get around and don't realize the dangers," he said.

Some parents or caregivers may think that plastic playground equipment may be cooler than metal equipment, but that's not necessarily the case.

"Certain materials absorb and dissipate the energy/heat more quickly, but others don't dissipate as quickly," Kalousek said. "Darker colors tend to retain the heat [more] than lighter ones, but some yellow- or greenish-colored plastics are almost as hot or intense."

Parents and caregivers need to use common sense by watching for playground signs warning about hot equipment and using their hands to touch test the equipment for heat.

"Sometimes they are more interested in giving the children time to burn off some energy and don't realize how hot the equipment can be," Kalousek said.

Dogs and cats can also suffer burns, said Dr. James Barr, associate professor in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Science in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M University.

"The dangers of pavement are the same as other hot things," Barr said. "If the pavement is too hot, then it can physically burn the footpads of dogs that are walking on them. Since the footpads have evolved to be tough and withstand rough surfaces, they are more resistant to heat than our feet are. However, prolonged contact with hot pavement and concrete is dangerous especially when strenuous exercise is done on hot pavement."

Footpad burns are a common injuries in the summer after exercise, Barr said.

"The damage can be so severe that the footpads themselves can come off the feet themselves. This is extremely painful for the pets and takes a long time to heal," Barr said.

The hotter the pavement, the shorter period of time that is necessary for damage to occur, Barr said.

"When you notice your pet licking their paws or limping after being on the hot pavement, then you should see your veterinarian immediately. Dogs will continue to run or play in the pavement as long as their owners are there."

Barr suggests that owners do not run in the heat of the day with their pet.

"If they are to be on the pavement for a prolonged period of time, then you should be mindful of hot pavement. There are booties that are made for dog paws that are commercially available to protect their paws."

Playground Safety Tips From the National Recreation and Park Association:

1. Check the surfacing material beneath the equipment to ensure it is acceptable.

2. Check the temperature of equipment surfaces.

3. Be observant of the conditions of the playground.

4. Supervision and proper clothing can reduce risk.

5. Ensure the equipment is age-appropriate.