Newly updated data from the Maricopa County Public Health Department shows a record number of heat-related deaths for 2017.

There were 174 confirmed cases last year. Four are still pending. This broke the previous record of more than 150 set in 2016. Monitoring began in 2006.

"Most of these deaths could have been avoided if people were just careful," said Kate Goodin with Maricopa County Public Health Department.

[SPECIAL SECTION: Extreme heat]

So far for 2018, there are 24 confirmed cases with 132 pending.

"We will likely see more heat-associated deaths that are currently occurring, reported within the next few months," said Goodin.

[RELATED: Heat Warnings in the desert? Yes]

On a scorching hot June day in 2006, Pamela Rineholt of Mesa lost her husband to exposure.

Clay Rineholt, 58, was on a four-day trip hiking the Four Peaks Wilderness to take photographs for a series of paintings he was working on.

[READ MORE: The heat index]

During that time, he ran out of water.

"He was an experienced hiker. He had been in the Four Peaks Wilderness quite a number of times," said Rineholt.

Search and rescue crews found his body on a trail.

"We forget how unforgiving the desert is, but don’t forget that. It will take you down," said Rineholt.

[RELATED: Heat safety 101]

"We’re certainly still concerned. Heat is definitely an issue. We’ve all experienced it this week with some of the high temperatures, so it is definitely still a risk. We do see heat-associated deaths at many points during the year," said Goodin.

[RELATED: AZ hikers, golfers ignore excessive heat warnings to get workout in]

According to health officials, the reasons behind the deaths include exercising or hiking when it’s too hot outside, abusing drugs or alcohol then getting overheated and people not being able to afford air conditioning, then just staying inside their homes instead of getting to a cooling center.

"We also have a duty to check in on our neighbors or family members that might be elderly, might not have as many resources, might not be able to access those cold spaces," said Goodin.

[RELATED: So when is it really going to cool down?]

Public health officials say heat-related deaths in Maricopa County happen as early as March and continue through as late as October.

"Why does this continue to happen? People should understand. People should know," said Rineholt.

[CHECK: Weather alerts]

[RELATED: Hottest days on record in Phoenix]

Click/tap here to download the free azfamily mobile app.

Copyright 2018 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

Recommended for you