The Clark County Medical Examiner’s Office has determined that at least one person died as a result of July’s heat wave in the Pacific Northwest.
Marissa Armstrong, spokeswoman for Clark County Public Health and the medical examiner’s office, said officials are still investigating three to six other possible heat-related deaths, all of which are suspected to have occurred during the heat wave.
Prolonged high-temperature days like the ones in July, when temperatures reached into the 100s, can be dangerous, Armstrong said. She encourages people to seek relief and spaces with air conditioning during times of intense heat.
“Air conditioning can really help your body when you’re back in the heat again,” she said. “If people start seeing signs of heat-related illness, or have friends or family members that are experiencing them, seek medical attention.”
In 2021, the state Department of Health reported that the unprecedented heat wave from June 26 to July 2 caused more than 100 heat-related deaths across the state.
The Pacific Northwest isn’t traditionally associated with the need for air conditioning. However, as temperatures continue to rise and heat waves become more common, it could be devastating not to have that resource available.
Clark Public Utilities spokesman Dameon Pesanti said that while most electricity is used in the winter, summertime use has increased over the past 10 years.
“I’m sure that air conditioning is a great drive behind that increase that we’re seeing,” he said.
But there is little information on just how many homes in Clark County are equipped with air conditioning units. According to Pesanti, that information can be difficult to track.
“There’s no question it’s getting hotter and hotter here in the summertime,” Pesanti said. “This is a question that has been asked of us several times within the last few years. It’s not something we can really get access to.”
For those without air conditioning, Armstrong recommends opening up their home’s windows in the morning to bring in fresh air, then closing everything in the afternoon when it starts to get hotter outside.
There are also some public spaces to seek refuge from the heat in Clark County, such as libraries and cooling centers, Armstrong said.
Clark County will see high temperatures in the 90s this weekend, according to the National Weather Service in Portland.
Armstrong urges community members to consider signs of heat stroke, a common heat-related illness, including fever above 103 degrees; dry, hot skin; rapid pulse; headache; fatigue; and dizziness.
“Check on friends and family members, neighbors, people you know, who are potentially at higher risk,” she said. “Make sure that they’re staying cool and have what they need to keep themselves healthy.”