June heat wave killed 569 people in B.C., coroners service confirms

VANCOUVER — The B.C. Coroners Service has confirmed that 569 people died as a result of extreme heat during the heat wave that hit the province at the end of June.

The results came as B.C. entered its second heat wave of the summer over the August long weekend.

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“We have now confirmed that, from June 20 to July 29, 569 people died as a result of the extreme heat,” Lisa Lapointe, B.C.’s chief coroner, said in a statement on Friday.

“The number of deaths reported is a 300 per cent increase over the number of deaths that had been reported to the B.C. Coroners Service during the same period in previous years,” she said in the statement.

Seventy-nine per cent of those who died were 65 or older, according to the coroner, confirming that the risks of extreme heat are highest for the elderly.

“Knowing that our older residents are more vulnerable, we ask that you please look out for family, friends and neighbours, particularly those who are elderly and live alone,” Lapointe said about the heat wave expected in B.C. this weekend.

According to B.C. Emergency Health Services (BCEHS), there were almost 900 heat stroke-related calls between June 24 and July 7, most of which were from the southern interior, the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island.

BCEHS responded to 104 heat stroke-related calls in Vancouver — the highest in the province — but the southern interior cities of Kamloops and Kelowna had the highest rate of heat stroke-related calls, with 29 and 28.8 calls per 100,000 people, respectively.

Nanaimo, Chilliwack, Victoria and Langley also reported high rates of heat stroke-related emergency calls between June 24 and July 7.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said jobs were posted Friday for 85 paramedics and 30 dispatchers to “meet this extraordinary demand for ambulance services.”

Dr. Melissa Lem, president of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, estimated that for every person who died in B.C., 10 people suffered some kind of heat-related sickness, amounting to between 5,000 and 6,000 extra visits to doctors’ offices and emergency rooms after 911 callers overwhelmed paramedics.

She noted that thousands of people sought medical help for heat stroke, dehydration and even brain injury caused by heat, but there’s no way to track that in B.C.

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