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Dozens of deaths may be tied to historic Northwest heat wave


Vancouver, British Columbia – The historic heat wave that scorched the Pacific Northwest became more pronounced Wednesday as officials in Canada, Washington state and Oregon said they were investigating dozens of deaths caused by temperatures that exceeded 100 degrees F. had risen above.

In Vancouver, British Columbia, police said they had responded to more than 65 sudden deaths since a heat wave began on Friday. Officials in Washington and Oregon were investigating about a dozen deaths.

“Vancouver has never experienced heat like this, and sadly, dozens are dying from it,” Vancouver Police Sergeant Steve Edison said in a statement.

The heat wave caused what meteorologists described as a high pressure dome over the northwest and worsened by human-caused climate change, which is making such extreme weather events more likely and more intense. Seattle, Portland and several other cities broke all-time heat records, with temperatures reaching above 115 degrees Fahrenheit (46 Celsius) in some places.

Amid the dangerous heat and drought that engulfs the American West, crews were closely monitoring wildfires that could explode in intense weather.

While temperatures in western Washington, Oregon and British Columbia had cooled significantly by Wednesday, interior regions were still sweating from triple-digit temperatures as the weather system moved east.

The government’s Environment Canada Agency issued heat warnings for southern Alberta and Saskatchewan on Wednesday. Heat warnings were also issued for parts of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.

In Alberta, “a long, dangerous and historic heat wave will persist through this week,” Environment Canada said in a release.

Extremely high temperature or humidity conditions were also expected to pose a greater risk of heatstroke or heat exhaustion.

British Columbia’s chief coroner, Lisa LaPointe, said her office would typically receive about 130 death reports over a four-day period. There were at least 233 deaths from Friday to Monday afternoon, he said, adding that coroners are determining whether the record-breaking heat played a role. Like Seattle, many homes in Vancouver do not have air conditioning.

The King County Medical Examiner’s Office, which includes Seattle, said two people died of hyperthermia, meaning their bodies had become dangerously hot.

In neighboring Snohomish County, three men, ages 51, 75 and 77, died after experiencing heatstroke in their homes, the medical examiner’s office told the Daily Herald in Everett, Washington, on Tuesday.

Officials in Bremerton, Washington, said the heat may have contributed to the four deaths in that Puget Sound city.

Employee safety agency Oregon OSHA said Tuesday that the death of an employee at an Oregon plant nursery last weekend was heat-related.

The man was from Guatemala and had apparently arrived in the United States only a few months earlier, said Andres Pablo Lucas, the owner of the Brother Farm labor contractor who sent the man and other workers to the nursery.

The man, whose name was not released, died on Saturday amid high temperatures at Ernst Nursery & Farms, a wholesale supplier in St. Paul, 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of the capital of Salem.

Speaking in Spanish, Pablo Lucas said that when workers gathered after Saturday afternoon, they saw someone missing. When they started searching his body was found. Pablo Lucas said he didn’t remember the man’s name.

Pablo Lucas said that workers often have the option of starting work around sunrise when it is cooler and can stop around noon, but some want to stay warm regardless.

“People want to work, fight to be successful,” he said. “For this reason, they stay.”

United Farm Workers urged Washington Gov. Jay Inslee issues emergency heat standards to protect all farm and other outdoor workers in a state with a strong agricultural sector.

In western Washington, the heat led a utility to impose a rolling blackout due to pressure on the electrical grid in Spokane. About 9,300 Avista Utilities customers lost power on Monday, and the company said more planned blackouts began Tuesday in the western Washington city of about 220,000 people.

“We try to limit outages to one hour per customer,” said Heather Rosentrater, an Avista vice president for energy distribution.

He said the outage was a distribution problem and did not stem from a lack of power in the system.

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Geranios reported from Spokane, Washington. Associated Press writer Andrew Selsky contributed from Salem, Oregon.

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