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Maricopa County heat death count keeps climbing, now at 289

By Katherine Davis-Young
Associated Press
Published: Saturday, September 23, 2023 - 7:05am
Updated: Wednesday, September 27, 2023 - 6:31pm

PHOENIX (AP) — America's hottest metro area is on track to set an annual record for heat-associated deaths after a sweltering summer, particularly in Phoenix.

Public health officials in Maricopa County, home to Phoenix and Arizona's most populous county, said Friday that 289 heat associated deaths were confirmed as of Sept. 16, with another 262 deaths under investigation.

By this time last year, there were 80 fewer deaths confirmed to be heat-associated and 46 fewer deaths that were still under investigation.

Forensic pathologists say that it can often take weeks and even months of investigation that can include toxicological tests to determine whether heat was a contributing factor in someone’s death. For example, at the end of 2022 the county had confirmed 378 heat-associated deaths, but later, as investigations played out, that number grew to 425.

About three-quarters of Maricopa County's confirmed heat deaths so far this year were outside, including at bus stops, as well as in yards, driveways, parking lots and parks. About 44% of those who died were people experiencing homelessness in a county where an estimated 10,000 don't have permanent housing.

There have been 74 indoor heat deaths confirmed so far, including 63 in homes where the air conditioning was not working or turned off.

More unhoused people this summer

This year’s high death toll comes in spite of massive investments by the county and city governments to mitigate the impacts of heat.

But Phoenix Office of Homeless Solutions director Rachel Milne told KJZZ News that as the region faced unprecedented temperatures this summer, there were also more vulnerable people.

“This summer we have more unsheltered individuals in our community than we have ever before, so we’ve got to go into every summer knowing what we’re dealing with," Milne said.

This year’s record will be consistent with a years-long trend. Heat deaths have broken records every year in Maricopa County since 2016.

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