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Surviving Las Vegas heat when stranded is all about preparation and keeping cool

It’s 120 degrees, and your vehicle is stuck in the desert. Your cell phone has no reception, and you’re on an off-road path where others aren’t likely to follow. What do you do?

A mother and her 6-year-old son faced that situation nearly two years ago in Death Valley National Park. The mother barely survived, and her son died one day before rescue workers found them.

They had planned to camp out for one night and brought 24 16-ounce bottles of water, cheese sandwiches and Pop-Tarts. It was five days before they were found.

Two adults also died that summer from heat exhaustion in the same park. There are more than 300 heat-related deaths each year in the United States.

Your chance of survival can increase greatly if you follow some important guidelines.

Valley of Fire State Park ranger Amber Heman said there are a few things you should always bring with you to be ready if something goes wrong.

“Prepare for your trip,” said Heman, “and then prepare some more. The No. 1 thing you need is water. The more water you start out with, the better situation you’re in.”

Plan for at least a gallon of water per person, per day. Heman recommends doubling whatever rations you planned. If you’re camping for three days, pack for six.

Also, plan your route ahead of time and stick to it. Tell a friend where you’re going and when they can expect you back. This will make it much easier for rescue workers to find you by simply following your footsteps if you don’t return as scheduled.

Heman also recommends bringing an umbrella for shade, a flashlight with spare batteries, a mirror for signaling aircraft, an emergency blanket, a first-aid kit, a lighter or matches, a wax candle and plastic bags.

The wax candle can provide light and seal wounds to help prevent infection.

Heman stressed the usefulness of plastic bags, both small and large, because they can be used to make stills and collect water from any vegetation you can find. Cover a plant, if there are any, in a large bag and seal the end with a rubber band or by tying it, and the evaporation from the plant will provide drinkable water.

Ground stills take longer and provide much less water, but they are an option if you can dig holes to get what little groundwater there is.

Light-colored, loose-fitting, long-sleeved shirts and pants are good clothing to wear. It might seem refreshing to remove articles of clothing when you get hot, but your shirt will collect sweat and actually help cool you down.

Jonathan Brunjes, park supervisor at Kershaw-Ryan State Park near Caliente, recommends that people also bring a map, a compass, sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat with a large brim and a knife.

Brunjes said many people rely on the GPS but that it may give bad directions, and it’s best to rely on a trusty map.

Whatever you do, stay near your car and stay shaded. It’s not advisable to leave during the day and search for help or food. Your car is much more likely to be spotted than you are.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time, stay with your car,” Heman said.

Creating a large “X” or “SOS” sign out of sticks or rocks can help helicopters locate you, too.

Heman and Brunjes said if you decide to leave, do it at night. On a clear night, your eyes can see reasonably well and you can cover a lot of ground in the cooler, safer temperatures.

As soon as the morning comes, though, find some shade and wait out the sun.

“Stay in the shade as much as possible,” said Brunjes, “and conserve your hydration level as much as possible.”

And if the situation truly is dire —- you’re out of water and you’ve expended all of your options —- i t’s OK to drink one’s urine as a last resort.

It’s important to drink it right away to avoid bacteria build-up, and Heman recommends filtering it through a shirt or boiling it if possible. It’s going to be salty and might make you sick, but it also could save your life.

Contact View education reporter Jeff Mosier at jmosier@viewnews.com or 224-5524.

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