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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

20 people died in the Spokane heat wave of 2021, medical examiner says

 (Molly Quinn / The Spokesman-Review)

Last June, 20 people died during a record-breaking heat wave, when temperatures reached 109 degrees with overnight lows in the 70s, offering little hope of cooling hot homes.

“That is more than the last eight previous years put together,” said Dr. Veena Singh, Spokane County chief medical examiner.

The findings are part of the medical examiner’s office’s 2021 year-end report, which was recently published.

The majority of the heat deaths were elderly people who died in their homes, Singh said. That’s contrary to the common belief that homeless people are the most at-risk during a heat wave, Singh said.

Singh credited the city’s and county’s work to provide cooling centers and other resources to homeless people as an effort that saved lives.

“Kudos to Spokane County for providing cooling centers and other ways for the unsheltered people to get out of the elements,” Singh said.

The people who died at home had mobility or mental health issues that may have prevented them from leaving, she said. They also were commonly in mobile homes or high-rise apartment buildings that didn’t have suitable cooling, Singh said.

Daytime high temperatures in Spokane exceeded 100 degrees six times last summer, according to National Weather Service records. This summer has been much milder.

Temperatures have yet to top 100 this summer, with the hottest temperature to date a 93-degree reading recorded June 27 at Spokane International Airport. That could be topped in the middle of this week, when high temperatures are forecasted in the mid-90s.