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Arizona counties closely watch heat-associated deaths after hottest month

Patrons are warned about the heat at the Desert Botanical Garden entrance, Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2023, in Phoenix.
Ross D. Franklin
AP Photo
Patrons are warned about the heat at the Desert Botanical Garden entrance, Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2023, in Phoenix.

Arizona officials are closely watching the deaths attributable to the scorching weather after Phoenix saw its hottest month in July.

Officials have put refrigerated body trailers on standby in the state's two most populous counties in case morgues reach capacity. Officials for Maricopa and Pima counties say storage at the medical examiner's offices are not full and trailers aren't needed yet.

“This is our usual process over the last few summers,” said Dr. Greg Hess, medical examiner for Pima County, home to Tucson.

Maricopa County, the state's most populous and home to Phoenix, reported this week that 39 heat-associated deaths have been confirmed this year as of July 29. Another 312 deaths are under investigation.

At the same time last year, there were 42 confirmed heat-related deaths in Maricopa County, with another 282 under investigation.

Maricopa County reported 425 heat-associated deaths in all of 2022, with more than half of them in July.

Pima County lists 59 heat-related deaths for this year through July 27, but not how many more deaths remain under investigation. There are no comparable figures from Pima County from last year because the tracking was expanded this year to include deaths in which heat was a contributing factor, something Maricopa County has done for several years.

Officials caution against reading too much into preliminary death reports, noting that the totals can change dramatically during the course of investigations that often include toxicology tests that can take months.

The National Weather Service said this week that July was the hottest month in Phoenix on record, with an average temperature of 102.7 F. This beats the previous record of 99.1 F set back in August 2020.

People who are homeless and those who work outside are among those at the greatest risk of dying from the heat.

Phoenix and its suburbs sweltered more and longer than most cities during the recent heat spell, with several records including 31 consecutive days over 110 F. That streak ended Monday. The previous record was 18 straight days, set in 1974.