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11 people died of suspected heat-related causes in 2023, B.C. coroner finds

Majority of people, as with 2021 heat dome, were aged 60 or older
Preliminary data from the BC Coroners Service shows 11 people died in B.C. in 2023 from heat-related causes. (Black Press Media file photo)

Preliminary coroner's data suggests 11 people died in B.C. from heat-related causes in 2023, a small decrease from the year prior and a fraction of the number caused by the 2021 heat dome. 

In a report released Tuesday (June 25), the BC Coroners Service found the majority of suspected deaths last year occurred during the hottest summer months of July and August, when nine people passed. One person also died in each of May and June. 

Most people who died were aged 60 or older (7 deaths), while another three people were aged 50 to 59 and one person was under the age of 30.

The BC Coroners Service further found eight of the deaths were among men and three were among women. By region, five deaths occurred in the Interior Health Authority, two occurred in Fraser Health and four occurred in Island Health. 

Previous years

The service began investigating and documenting all heat-related deaths after the 2021 heat dome. That year, 622 people died from suspected heat-related causes, 619 of them during the June 25 to July 1 heat event. 

Seniors suffered the greatest proportion of deaths in that week. Other demographics who were hardest hit included people with chronic diseases and mental illnesses, those living in poorer neighbourhoods and those living alone. Only seven per cent of the 619 people had air conditioning and just 24 per cent had fans. 

In 2022, the BC Coroners Service found 22 people died from suspected heat-related causes. Of those deaths, 16 were during a July 26 to Aug. 3 heat wave, in which many regions saw daily temperatures hit 10 C higher than normal.

As with 2021, the majority of fatalities were among people aged 60 and older. 

This summer, Environment Canada is forecasting above normal temperatures for all of B.C., except the coast. 

Environment Canada is forecasting above normal temperatures across the country for summer 2024, with the exception of coastal B.C. (Environment Canada graphic)

Heat preparedness 

B.C.'s ambulance service, BC Emergency Health Services, is urging people to prepare ahead of time for any potential heat waves.

The service recommends that people make a plan for how they will stay cool, whether that means staying in their own home, finding air conditioned public spaces or going to stay at a friend or family member's place. BCEHS is also asking people to look out for other people in their community who may not have a support system to help them.

Paramedics with the service suggest people learn how to block out their windows, buy an air conditioner or build their own affordable one, and place wet towels inside plastic bags in the freezer to be used later on their necks and under their armpits. 

More preparation information can be found here.  

About the Author: Jane Skrypnek

Hi, I'm a provincial reporter with Black Press Media, where I've worked since 2020.
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