SPOKANE COUNTY, Wash. — The number of heat-related deaths in Spokane County continues to grow amid a historic heat wave that slammed the Northwest, bringing record-breaking temperatures to Spokane and surrounding areas.
On Thursday morning the medical examiner wrote on its website, "There are 20 deaths wherein circumstances suggest they may be heat related, although autopsy results are not yet available to confirm."
In a press release Wednesday afternoon, Spokane County Communications Manager Jared Webley said the medical examiner has identified 17 heat-related deaths since July 1. Webley said for comparison, Spokane County reported 13 heat-related deaths in total between 2015 and 2020.
The people who died range in age from 26 to 84 and include eight women and nine men. Webley said most were found alone in their homes without air conditioning. Some were also found in buildings where other occupants were suffering from heat-related illnesses.
Webley said many of the victims had underlying health conditions which made them more susceptible to heat stress. Some also had cognitive impairment or mobility problems that limited their ability to remove themselves from the dangerously hot environment, Webley said.
“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," Chief Medical Examiner for Spokane County Dr. Veena Signh said in a press 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 medical examiner identified 65-year-old Ronda Truppe's cause of death Wednesday afternoon. Her cause of death was environmental heat exposure. The manner of her death is listed as an accident.
On Wednesday, the medical examiner confirmed the cause of death for 45-year-old Nadine Hager was hyperthermia, which is when the body gets too warm and cannot cool itself off.
The ME also confirmed three other people died due to the heat. The medical examiner also identified five other people Tuesday evening but their cause and manner of deaths are pending.
The medical examiner confirmed that the cause of death for 64-year-old Deana Farwell and 84-year-old Beverly Martin was environmental heat exposure and the manner was accidental. Both women had medical conditions that contributed to their deaths, according to the medical examiner. David Bevleming, 81, also died from environmental heat exposure and had medical conditions that contributed to his death.
Two deaths that may be heat-related were reported at a Spokane apartment building on Wednesday morning, according to City of Spokane spokesperson Brian Coddington. Neighbors reported to the Spokane Fire Department that the two people found dead were suffering some symptoms of heat-related stress, Coddington said.
According to Coddington, personnel with Spokane Fire responded to the New Washington Apartments building at 327 W. Second Ave. in Spokane at 8:25 a.m. Two men were found dead in neighboring units.
The Spokane County Medical Examiner identified a 68-year-old man who died in the 300 block of W. Second Avenue as Robert L. Hunt, along with 36-year-old Andre Pharr. The cause and manner of death for both men are listed as pending.
Coddington and a spokesperson for the Spokane Police Department were not able to definitively confirm that the two deaths were heat-related.
The two people were found dead in upper-floor apartments in the building, Coddington said. It's unclear if air conditioning units were in the apartments but they weren't turned on if they were present, he added.
On a typical June day, Spokane Fire may respond to three to five calls related to heat and they are usually from people recreating. Now, fire personnel are seeing between one and two dozen daily and the heat is affecting everyone. About 80% of these calls are resulting in hospitalizations, Spokane Fire officials told KREM.
In King County, located in Western Washington, at least 13 people have died from heat-illnesses and two people drowned, according to reporting from KREM's Seattle sister station KING 5. The King County Medical Examiner reported two heat-related deaths on Monday and one drowning, and 11 more heat-related deaths and a second drowning were reported Tuesday, officials said.
Coddington is urging the public to make use of cooling centers throughout the Spokane area, including those located at the Looff Carrousel in Riverfront Park, Spokane Public Libraries, Spokane Transit Authority Plaza and the Northtown Mall. Hours for the City of Spokane's cooling centers have expanded to 8 p.m. A full list of cooling centers in the Spokane area is available on KREM's website.
Doctors have also warned people to look out for signs of heat illness amid record-high temperatures.
Dizziness, nausea, headaches and muscle cramps are all signs of heat illness. Doctors say if you experience any of those symptoms, try to cool down your body by taking a cold shower, removing tight clothing, or slowly drinking a cold beverage. If the symptoms don't go away or get worse, contact a doctor or medical professional or call 911.