MARICOPA COUNTY, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- County officials have reported the first heat-related death of 2021.
Anyone can be impacted by the heat. The year 2020 was marked with 323 heat-related deaths.
A spokesperson for the Maricopa County Department of Public Health confirmed Tuesday morning that a man died but did not release the man's name or say in what city. "This individual did live alone and was found deceased in his home when someone checked on him," said Dr. Sunenshine, medical director for disease control at MCDPH. She did say the man was older than 60 and the A/C was not on when he died.
The MCDPH also recently released a 2020 heat report, showing a record high of 323 heat-related deaths in 2020. This is 62% higher than in 2019 and the highest number recorded since heat surveillance began in 2001. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in 2020, there were 520 heat-related deaths in Arizona. And since 2010, nearly 3,100 people have died from complications associated with heat.
Officials say most heat-related deaths happen in July and August and can happen as early as April or as late as October. 2020 was recorded as one of the hottest years on record, with almost three times as many days with excessive heat warnings than the typical five-year average.
"The tragedy of these deaths is that they are all preventable," says Sunenshine. "No matter your age or how long you've lived in the valley, none of us are immune to its effects. Many people believe that visitors to Maricopa County are more likely to die from heat-related causes. However, this is not true. It is a myth that people can acclimate to the heat over time."
"Temperatures are rising in general, and last year we had three times as many extreme heat warning days than we had in the five years on average before that, so it was a very hot year," continued Sunenshine .
The county said more than half of the people who died last year were homeless
As the state heats up, Rich Heitz remembers the years he spent on the streets without A/C or a home. "It's extremely dangerous because you're already, as they call it, the concrete jungle," said Heitz. "The sun hits that street. "It just absorbs, and it's super hot."
Today, he works at The Phoenix Rescue Mission as a Lead Case Manager for The Street Outreach Team. He feels for the people who can't afford to stay cool. "It's definitely an eye opener to learn what I survived through, what the Lord has brought me from and where I am now," said Heitz.
Sunsenshine reminds people to drink extra water, avoid exercising outside when it's hot and check on your elderly neighbors.
The heat report for 2020 included some of the following data:
- Over 80% of heat-related deaths were men
- Black and American Indians/Native Americans had the highest rates of heat-related deaths
- Over half of the deaths in 2020 were among homeless populations (more than double the number in 2019)
- About 15% of deaths happened indoors, while 85% happened outdoors
The report states of the 85% of outdoor deaths, 82% of those had an air conditioner present, with about two-thirds of those air conditioners not working. Maricopa County Public Health works with the Heat Relief Network to get resources to anyone who needs them during the summer months in Arizona. The resources include utility assistance, cooling centers, water distribution centers, evening heat relief for people experiencing homelessness, and more. To learn more about the heat relief resources, or to read the full 2020 heat report, click here.