Heat Relief Network begins with warnings for every resident

(Heat Relief Network graphic)

The Arizona heat killed or contributed to the deaths of 181 people in Maricopa County last year. Many were homebound adults. Some were those experiencing homelessness. Others were outdoor workers just doing their jobs.

The annual Heat Relief Network, organized by the Maricopa Association of Governments, launched May 1 amid warnings that all residents are at risk, no matter their age or circumstance, according to a release.

Queen Creek Mayor Gail Barney (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

“Most of us are aware of the danger to vulnerable populations, such as those experiencing homelessness and older adults. We also need to realize that even those in good physical shape can die in the heat and to heed heat warnings,” Queen Creek Mayor Gail Barney, who chairs the MAG Regional Council, said in the release.

While 73% of heat-related deaths last year were among those 50 and over, 27% were individuals aged 20-49. Most heat injuries (75%) occurred outdoors, with 25% indoors. Twenty-three percent of the deaths happened on days in which an excessive heat warning was issued.

The Maricopa region has seen an alarming increase in heat-related deaths over the past five years, with 61 confirmed deaths in 2014, 84 in 2015, 154 in 2016, 179 in 2017, and 181 in 2018. Most of the deaths in 2018 occurred in July and August, but the heat can kill even in earlier months. The Valley already has seen one death in April 2019, when an infant died after being left in a hot car, according to the release.

The Heat Relief Network provides relief for those suffering in the heat, and offers places people can go to donate water. Hydration and refuge locations, as well as donation locations, are available online at azmag.gov/heatrelief.

Buckeye Councilmember Michelle Hess, who chairs the MAG Human Services and Community Initiatives Committee, says more than 55 organizations provided water and cooling stations at 163 locations last year, with an additional 90 collection site locations.

“This is a true community effort that brings together cities and towns, nonprofit agencies, faith-based organizations, businesses, and individuals who mobilize to provide resources to those who are vulnerable,” she said in the release. “We are hoping that many more step forward this year to help us in these efforts, so that we can see a drop in the number of deaths.”

Below are tips that everyone can take to avoid heat-related illness.

  • Increase fluid intake regardless of activity level. Staying hydrated is extremely important.
  • Limit exercise or outdoor activity between the hours of 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
  • Never leave infants, children or pets inside a parked vehicle.
  • When outdoors, wear a sunscreen with a minimum SPF 15 and reapply often. Wear a hat, lightweight clothing and sunglasses.
  • Rest frequently in shady or cool areas to give the body’s temperature a chance to recover and cool down.
  • Respectfully check on elderly neighbors to make sure their air-conditioning is working and in use. Take advantage of free air-conditioning by visiting locations such as shopping malls, the library or other heat-refuge locations provided on the map at azmag.gov/heatrelief.

The Queen Creek Independent publishes a daily newsletter and website. A print edition is mailed each month to 24,000 homes.

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