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What we're now learning about the people who died in Portland's heat wave last year

One of the people who died was homeless, the county said. The other four lived in houses or apartments but none of them had air conditioning. Only two had fans.
Credit: KGW News

PORTLAND, Ore. — Five people are confirmed to have died from heat-related causes in Multnomah County last summer, according to a report released Tuesday by the county medical examiner's office.

A prolonged heat wave hit the Portland area in the final week of July 2022, followed by a shorter one in early August, and eight suspected heat-related deaths were reported in the county during that timeframe. 

Five of those deaths have now been confirmed to be caused by hyperthermia, the county reported Tuesday. The remaining three were caused by other factors.

Four of the five deaths occurred between July 25 and July 31, a period in which Portland hit 95 degrees or higher for seven days straight. One person died on July 28, two more on July 30 and the fourth on July 31. The fifth person died during the second heat wave on Aug. 10.

Only one of the people who died was homeless, the county reported; the other four lived in houses or apartments but none of them had working air conditioning and only two of them had fans.

Four of the people who died were male; one was female. One of them was under 50, three were in their 60s and one was in their 70s. They were mostly non-Hispanic white men who lived alone or in multi-family dwellings, the county said.

Each of the deaths occurred in a different zip code, including two zip codes that had seen previous heat-related deaths. One of those two zip codes, 97266, is in the Lents neighborhood and is one of the hottest parts of Portland, the county said.

"Extreme heat events continue to be a threat in our area every summer, particularly to those over 60 years old and to individuals without a way of keeping cool when temperatures soar," Deputy Health Officer Dr. Teresa Everson said in a statement. "Public Health will continue to monitor for extreme weather conditions, to educate the community about measures to take to avoid overheating, and to encourage the opening of cooling shelters when needed. But we also rely on you as friends, neighbors, family and community members to watch out for and support those most at risk from heat-related injury."

There were 72 heat-related deaths in Multnomah County in 2021, 69 of which stemmed from that summer's record-breaking heat dome event. Prior to that year, the county had only seen a maximum of one heat-related death per year, with zero in most years.

Temperatures during the 2022 heat wave didn't rise as high as the 2021 heat dome, but the wave lasted for a greater number of consecutive days and caused several cities to experience their hottest months of July and August on record.

Portland's average summer temperatures have been steadily rising for years, a trend linked to global climate change caused by rising levels of carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere. The data points to a growing number of heat waves and wildfires in Oregon's future. 

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