Sixteen people died as a result of B.C.’s most recent heat wave, according to preliminary data obtained by Black Press Media.
The BC Coroners Service confirmed the details on Tuesday (Aug. 9). This marks the first heat wave since the 2021 heat dome, between June 25 - July 1, when 619 people died.
With the exception of the heat dome, data shows that the number of weekly heat-related deaths during summer 2021 were between one and six. The BC Coroners Service says prior to then it didn’t investigate heat-caused deaths as thoroughly and only has three on record between 2010 and 2020.
This year, much of B.C. experienced its first heat warning at the end of July when temperatures rose as high as 40 C in the Interior.
The deaths were recorded between July 26 and Aug. 3. Broken down by age: two of the people who died were aged 40 to 49, two were aged 50 to 59, three were aged 60 to 69, six were aged 70 to 78, two were aged 80 to 89, and one was over 90 years old.
Eight of the deaths occurred in the Fraser Health region, with another six passing away in the Interior, one in Vancouver Coastal and one in the Island Health area.
The BC Coroners Service defines a heat-related death as one where the person was experiencing hyperthermia, or where the temperature at time of death is unknown but there is other evidence strongly suggesting heat played a significant role.
Calls to 911 also spiked: data
The number of heat-related 911 calls paramedics responded to was also above average during this year’s heat wave.
Between July 25 and Aug. 1, paramedics responded to 210 heat-related patient events, according to BC Emergency Health Services. That’s about a quarter of the number they responded to during 2021’s heat dome (824 calls), but significantly higher than 22 heat-related calls paramedics attended in the week prior to this year’s heat wave.
Broken down by health authority, paramedics responded to the most heat-related events during this year’s heat wave in the Fraser Health, Vancouver Coastal Health and Interior Health regions, with about 55 calls each. Another 38 people were tended to in the Vancouver Island Health region and eight in Northern Health.
Air conditioning access a factor in 2021
During 2021’s heat dome, BC Coroners Service found the majority of people who died were 60 or older, had at least one chronic disease and lived alone. It also determined 93 per cent didn’t have air conditioning when they died and 76 didn’t have a fan.
Whether the same factors were at play this year isn’t yet known.
As part of the BC Coroners Service’s 2021 heat dome review, its also made three broad recommendations: to implement a provincial heat alert and response system, which the government did in June; to identify and better support vulnerable individuals; and, to implement long-term strategies.
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said he was saddened to learn of the heat-related deaths.
“After last year’s heat dome, our government made a commitment to better protect British Columbians from heat events. We have taken several steps to improve communication and services for people during heat events.”
He pointed to the BC heat alert and response system (BC HARS), the PreparedBC Extreme Heat Preparedness Guide, and provincial support for First Nations and local authorities by creating the extreme heat funding stream and providing guidance and funds for local authorities to proactively open cooling centres.
“We know heat events caused by climate change will continue to challenge our province. We remain committed to working with First Nations, local authorities and public health partners to help ensure all British Columbians can stay safe during heat events.”