Maricopa County heat deaths on the rise as blistering summer temperatures persist

The largest county in Arizona is on track to beat last year's record of 338 heat-associated deaths as dangerously hot temperatures persist in the state.

Last year, 75% of those deaths were outdoors. Temperatures can reach as high as 158 degrees on Phoenix sidewalks.

"We have broken the heat death record every single year, we have to do more, we have to have urgency," said community advocate Stacey Champion. "We have to view all of these people as human beings who should not have to die because there isn’t someplace safe for them to go."

Advocates are pushing for more cooling solutions for the nearly 1,000 people living in "the zone," a homeless encampment in downtown Phoenix.

So far this year, four people in Maricopa County have been confirmed to have died from the heat, and 44 other deaths are being investigated as heat-related. This number is nearly three times higher than this time last year.

"We know that the risk of heat associated death, is particularly high in that population, 200 to 300 higher than the rest of the population," said David Hondula, director of the Office of Heat Response and Mitigation Director for the city of Phoenix. "So our investments there we know are going to bring the greatest public health benefits."

A 200-bed shelter just opened up in central Phoenix, but many on the streets don't want to go there.

"There’s a lot of people there that have mental problems, that are elderly. they are really struggling, they don’t have the ability to get jobs - and if they’re staying outside that will definitely kill them," said Kurt Forbis, who is currently staying at the new Phoenix shelter.

Forbis says the shelter is not at full capacity. As for why people don't want to come seek shelter, he says it's because of rules.

"Some of them treat it like a jail situation," he said. "It’s not a jail situation, you’re blessed to be there."

The city does provide free rides to cooling centers and have deployed several employees to the streets to hand out water, hats and cooling towels.

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