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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Death toll from Spokane County heat wave, currently at 17, is more than the past five years’ heat deaths combined

 (Molly Quinn / The Spokesman-Review)

Seventeen people in Spokane County have died as a result of last week’s heat wave, more than all the area’s heat deaths from the past five years combined.

The death toll is projected to increase in the coming days.

“Unfortunately, I expect that the true number of deaths related to this extreme weather event will probably be higher before the end of summer and once all hospital deaths are examined,” Dr. Veena Singh, chief medical examiner for Spokane County, said in a news release. “The high number of deaths for this region emphasizes the importance of all of us being aware of the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke, realizing how lethal these conditions can be, and checking on our neighbors, relatives, and friends to ensure that they are safe.”

The weeklong heat wave killed more people than extreme heat in the last five years combined. From 2015 to 2020, the county medical examiner confirmed only 13 deaths due to heat exposure.

Spokane, along with many other towns in Eastern Washington, posted record temperatures during the heat wave, which increased the risk for heat exhaustion and heat stroke, especially for those without a cool place to go. Experts say these deaths are preventable.

People ages 26 to 84 were among those who died, and most of them were found alone in their homes with no air conditioning.

Younger children and older adults, as well as people with underlying health conditions, are at higher risk for heat-related symptoms, and many of the people who died had underlying health conditions, according to the medical examiner. Others did not have the ability to get to a cooler location.

Preliminary numbers from the Department of Health show that nearly 70 people died from the heat wave statewide.

As of July 7, the Department of Health had identified 69 deaths in 17 counties. These numbers include just two deaths from Spokane County, not 17, so the statewide total will likely increase in the coming weeks.

Final counts will not be available for a couple of months, after coroners complete autopsies.

In 2020, just seven heat-related deaths were confirmed by the Department of Health statewide.

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is primarily funded by the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, with additional support from Report for America and members of the Spokane community. These stories can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.