British Columbia

70% of sudden deaths recorded during B.C. heat wave were due to extreme temperatures, coroner confirms

B.C.'s chief coroner has confirmed the majority of people who died suddenly during the week of June's record-breaking heat wave — 570 of 815 sudden deaths — lost their lives as a direct result of the extreme temperatures.

570 of the 815 deaths deemed 'heat related,' chief coroner says; 79% of those who died were 65 or older

A paramedic outside St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver on June 30. According to B.C.'s chief coroner, 570 of the 815 sudden deaths recorded over June's week-long heat wave — 70 per cent — have now been deemed 'heat related.' (Ben Nelms/CBC)

B.C.'s chief coroner has confirmed the majority of people who died suddenly during the week of June's record-breaking heat wave lost their lives as a direct result of the extreme temperatures.

Lisa Lapointe confirmed in an interview Thursday morning that 570 of the 815 sudden deaths recorded over that time period — 70 per cent — have now been deemed "heat related."

"[If not] for the extreme heat, they would not have died at that time," Lapointe said during an interview with CBC's The Early Edition.

According to Lapointe, 79 per cent of those who died were 65 or older.

"Many, many of those who died had underlying health conditions. So, they were more vulnerable to extreme heat," she said.

"Some people died in their single-family home, sitting in their living room, in their armchair. But [they had] doors and windows closed and the temperature was well above 30, 35 C."

Lapointe said people don't always realize their bodies just "can't cope" when they get that hot, particularly if they have "some frailties already."

Temperatures soared to record levels throughout B.C. during the last week of June, peaking on June 28 and 29. More than 100 all-time records were shattered across Western Canada, including in several B.C. communities that sweltered in temperatures of more than 40 C.

More than 300 sudden deaths were reported throughout the province on one day alone — June 29, the day Lytton, B.C., shattered Canada's all-time temperature record. 

The overall number of sudden deaths represented a nearly 300 per cent increase from the average number of deaths recorded over the same week every year since 2016. 

A man walks along Willows Beach during the 'heat dome' in Victoria on June 28. (Chad Hipolito/REUTERS)

Coroner investigating how many died waiting for help

First responders were stretched to the limit during the heat wave. At times, dispatchers had more than 200 calls waiting for a response. Paramedics told CBC News lower priority calls were left unattended for anywhere from four to 16 hours.

The BC Coroners Service will investigate how many people died waiting for help.

Lapointe said some people couldn't have been saved, even if they had made it to hospital — she said some arrived experiencing hyperthermia, but couldn't be revived despite medical attention.

The province typically sees far milder summers.

Many communities saw little reprieve from the heat at night, with temperatures seldom dipping below 20 C. Lapointe said those in urban areas, especially, were caught off guard.

Regions work to craft better heat response plans

"We think about cold weather and we would never stay in our house in below-zero temperatures for several days in a row with no heat ... we would get our elderly relatives and friends to somewhere warmer," she said. 

"We haven't thought about that the same way with heat ... we have to think about things differently."

Lapointe said municipalities and community leaders across the province have been calling her office for information as they work to create a better response plan for future heat waves. 

"I don't think anybody in the province, from the public health officials to the general public, really understood that we may see over 500 deaths in a week due to the heat," she said.

"We have never seen something like that in this province. Not that I'm aware of in the last 30 years doing this kind of work. Absolutely unprecedented."

LISTEN | Lisa Lapointe speaks about heat-related deaths in B.C.

With files from CBC's The Early Edition


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