Despite promises, California doesn’t know how many people died in record summer heat wave
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The heat was relentless and unsparing. The mercury reached 100 degrees Sunday in Riverside and 98 degrees in Lake Elsinore, and with it came record high temperatures and deadly record numbers of dead heat-related deaths.
On the first day of the heat wave, Los Angeles County coroner’s officials said there were seven dead heat-related deaths. There were more, but those couldn’t be confirmed, so they didn’t count, the coroner’s office said Tuesday. But in Riverside County, where the heat reached a record high of 101 degrees and killed 19 people, there were more than 30 heat-related deaths.
In Riverside County, an unverified number of people died Saturday because of the heat: 21-year-old Jammie Birchett died in a car crash on Interstate 8, just outside of Palm Springs, and 20-year-old Jason Birchett died Sunday at a hospital in Ridgecrest.
In Los Angeles County, 21-year-old Jennifer Dillard died in a car crash, and 20-year-old Ryan Dillard died Sunday at a hospital in Riverside.
And in San Bernardino County, a family was fighting to keep their child alive after he was nearly killed by the heat.
It was in the Los Angeles area that temperatures began to break records Saturday, with the scorching heat expected to continue until Thursday. It was a record-setting day for L.A. County, where the temperature climbed to 109 degrees, the hottest day ever recorded.
The record-breaking heat led to more than 16,000 people seeking treatment from the heat and dehydration, said San Bernardino County Public Health director Jonathan Castaneda, and the need for treatment grew by about a third. Doctors were treating about 9,000 people for heat-related illnesses, a 10% increase from the number that needed treatment in the previous heat wave in 1999, he said.
The heat wave came as a surprise to the public and was much more intense than the one in 2003, which was considered the worst of the year, Castaneda said. The heat