British Columbia

B.C.'s heat wave likely contributed to 719 sudden deaths in a week, coroner says — triple the usual number

The BC Coroners Service has reported 719 sudden deaths in the past week, triple the amount that would normally occur in the province.

High temperatures thought to be 'significant contributing factor'

A man carrying multiple jugs of water walks through a sprinkler during a period of record-breaking temperatures in Vancouver on Monday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The BC Coroners Service has reported 719 sudden deaths in the past week, triple the number that would normally occur in the province.

"We are releasing this information as it is believed likely the extreme weather B.C. has experienced in the past week is a significant contributing factor to the increased number of deaths," Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner said in a release. 

This comes after a dangerous and unrelenting heat wave crushed temperature records across the province.

Earlier this week, police in Metro Vancouver said they experienced a spike in calls related to sudden deaths under the oppressive heat. 

Lapointe says the coroners service received an unprecedented number of reports of sudden and unexpected deaths throughout the province from last Friday to Thursday.

She says B.C. had seen only three heat-related deaths in the past three to five years before the heat wave. 

"Many of our health services, our first responders, we haven't experienced anything like this in the province previously. It took a bit of time for us to ramp up our response. There were some delays in reaching the coroner and there were some delays in responding to scenes," Lapointe said in a briefing earlier this week. 

She added: "We feel much more confident now that we can respond more quickly." 

As the heat wave warning has ended throughout many parts of the province, Lapointe says the coroners service is seeing a downward trend in deaths reported in the last few days. 

Precautions remain important

For parts of the province still experiencing unusually high temperatures, Lapointe says it remains important for people to take extra precautions and check on those who live alone.

"Whenever possible, people are encouraged to visit cooler environments," Lapointe said.

She says many of the deaths reported over the past week were among older individuals living alone in private residences. 

"On behalf of the BC Coroners Service, I extend my sincere condolences to all of those who have lost a loved one during this challenging period," she said. 

The coroners service says it plans to investigate the circumstances of each death to determine the role the heat wave may have played.