Maricopa County announces year's first heat death

Arizona's largest county is announcing the first recorded heat-related death of the year.

On June 1, the Maricopa County Department of Public Health said the death was of an older man.

A man over the age of 60 was found during a wellness check in his home, officials say.

"Last year was a horrible year," said Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, medical director for disease control at the county's public health department. "We had 62% more heat related deaths than we did the year prior, which was the highest we had ever seen."

There were a record 323 heat deaths in the county last year.

Summer temperatures in Phoenix and other cities in Maricopa County regularly soar into the triple digits. People suffer heat-associated illness when their bodies cannot properly cool off.

While most heat-related deaths occur in July and August, in Arizona they can be seen as early as April and as late as October. Last summer was among the hottest for the county on record.

"The tragedy of these deaths is that they are all preventable," said Dr. Sunenshine said.

Last year, over 80% of heat-related deaths were in men. Blacks and Native Americans had the highest rates of those deaths. 

Data shows that 15% of those deaths occurred indoors, and 82% of those who passed had an air conditioner present.

Over half of the heat-related deaths in 2020 were among people experiencing homelessness.

"It is a myth you can ever acclimate to this heat," Sunenshine said. "We have such extended heat, we have 3 times as many heat warnings last year than we did in the average 5 years prior."

There are resources the county has made available in case someone does not have electricity or needs a safe place to escape from the hear. They are also reminding people to check on neighbors and family members.

On Extreme Heat Advisory days, the Salvation Army is ready to deploy their heat relief stations to provide water and a place to rest.

"It definitely saves lives or keeps them from going into that area of difficulty or illness," said Major David Yardley, Metro Phoenix Program Coordinator for the Salvation Army. "This is lifesaving…to provide water and get them out of the heat."

More heat resources:

Heat relief stations:

You can always check the latest weather conditions by visiting the FOX 10 Phoenix weather page, or download the Free FOX 10 Weather app, which is available on Apple iOS and Android.

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Preventing heat exhaustion/heat stroke

The Arizona Department of Health Services stated the following precautions can be taken to prevent heat exhaustion or heat stroke:

  • Stay in air-conditioned buildings
  • Limit outdoor activity during the hottest part of the day (mid-day)
  • Check on at-risk friends, family, and neighbors at least twice a day
  • Drink water before, during, and after working or exercising outside


Road Conditions

  • Call 511 anywhere in Arizona or 1-888-411-ROAD (7623)


Driving in extreme temperatures

The Arizona Department of Transportation’s tips for driving in extreme temperatures include: 

Have sun protection: In addition to an umbrella, take sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat and wear loose-fitting, light-colored cotton clothing.

Fuel up: Keep your tank at three-quarters full. Running out of gas, especially in a remote location, is dangerous in extreme heat.

Hydrate: Take a cooler to keep extra drinking water cold, and consider adding several frozen bottles of water to use for cooling off or to thaw and drink if needed. Make sure everyone, including pets, stays hydrated.

Get help: If your vehicle breaks down in extreme heat, call for assistance right away to reduce wait time, and run the AC. If the AC isn’t working, roll down all windows.

Wait safely: If the temperature inside your vehicle becomes too hot, everyone, including pets, should exit carefully and seek out or create a shaded area as far away from the travel lanes as possible. Be careful walking on the road surface, which can be hot enough to burn skin. Keep your shoes on and try to keep your pets’ paws off the pavement. If you are stopped along the highway, raise the front hood and turn on hazard lights. Please keep in mind that parking in tall brush can start a fire. 

Check your vehicle: You can help avoid breakdowns and blowouts by making sure your vehicle is in good operating condition. Check your air conditioner and coolant levels, top off any vital engine fluids and make sure your battery is up to par. Check your tire pressure, as the combination of under inflated tires and hot pavement can lead to a blowout.


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