Withering heat sickened at least 15 people, two critically, at a packed Saturday morning graduation ceremony at Del Oro High School in Loomis, sending five people to local hospitals, overwhelming first responders who scrambled to their aid and forcing the event's cancellation.
As many as 7,000 people squeezed into Del Oro High's Golden Eagle Stadium as early as 7:30 a.m. for the scheduled 9 a.m. start on the field, said Dave Wheeler, Loomis fire chief.
"They were crammed together like sardines," Wheeler said on a day of record heat in the Sacramento area. By mid-morning, temperatures were pushing 90 degrees, eventually topping out at 111 in the Loomis area, according to the National Weather Service.
Five spectators were taken to hospitals in nearby Roseville, Wheeler said, including two initially in critical condition.
Three of the patients went to Sutter Roseville Medical Center for treatment, said Gary Zavoral, Sutter Health spokesman. By 4:30 p.m., the three had been released.
Two others were taken to Kaiser Permanente Roseville, Wheeler said. Their conditions were not known as of Saturday evening.
Within minutes of the start of the 9 a.m. ceremony, people in the bleachers began to collapse from the heat.
One had vomited; two others in the stands had fainted. On the field, graduates were told to shed their black robes as a safety precaution, Wheeler said, the situation becoming more dire by the minute.
By 9:30 a.m., first responders were treating upward of 15 people at hastily set triage stations, forcing chilled intravenous fluids into some of the victims before taking them to hospital as help rushed to Loomis from across Placer County.
"The triage came in when we realized how many we had," Wheeler said. "It was just a difficult situation. Within 30 minutes, we went from one patient to two unresponsive in the stands to treating 15 people."
The combination of stifling heat, the numbers of people crowded onto the stadium's metal bleachers, Golden Eagle Stadium's synthetic turf surface and little to no shade made for a dangerous mix, Wheeler said.
The field's artificial surface likely raised the ambient temperature as much as 20 degrees.
"They were all ages. They were dropping like flies. We couldn't contain it and didn't have the resources," Wheeler told the local Loomis News newspaper.
The victims, ranging in age from 15 to 80 and older, were felled by heat exhaustion and more dangerous heat stroke, Wheeler said.
Responders from Loomis, Penryn, Roseville, Rocklin and south Placer County, as well as numerous area ambulances and off-duty firefighters, swarmed the stadium to tend to the heat-stricken spectators. Still other spectators overcome by the heat refused treatment.
By 9:45 a.m., the heat became too much and fire and school officials canceled the event.
Calls to Del Oro High Principal Dan Gayaldo were not returned. But Wheeler said his department "will be addressing options" with Del Oro for future daytime events at the stadium.
Meanwhile, a local church has offered its space for a ceremony today to recognize Del Oro graduates.
Bayside Church of Granite Bay will hold a "recognition ceremony" during its 11:30 a.m. service at the church, 8191 Sierra College Blvd.
The church counts a number of Loomis-area families among its congregants and word of the canceled Saturday ceremony spread fast, said Mark Miller, Bayside spokesman.
"We have a whole lot of Loomis students who attend, so we got word right away. We've done this in the past with weddings that were rained out, so we said, 'Can we do this?' " Miller said. "It's a great opportunity to honor these kids and honor their accomplishments."
Call The Bee's Darrell Smith, (916) 321-1040.