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Heat deaths in Maricopa County hit half-year record

Heat associated deaths in Arizona’s largest county have hit a half-year record as more homeless people live unprotected outdoors in the arid desert city while summer temperatures soar well into triple digits.

The  most recent data from the Maricopa County Department of Health shows 17 heat associated fatalities were registered this year through the first week of July, with another 126 under investigation. About two-thirds of the deaths involved people who were outdoors.

Other cities around the U.S. and the world are also sweating through earlier, more intense and longer lasting heat waves that scientists blame on global warning. Record high temperatures currently grip Europe, with London officials asking people to stay home and wildfires raging in Spain, France and elsewhere.

In Arizona's Maricopa County, the number of heat associated deaths reported during the first half are far greater those recorded during the same period in past years. There were 11 such fatalities in the first six months of 2021 with 107 more under investigation; four during that period in 2020 with another 48 under investigation; and three in 2019 with 27 more under investigation.

The health department reported 339 heat-associated deaths in Maricopa County for all of 2021.

The county's latest data come amid a surge in the number of homeless people living on the streets in greater Phoenix as temperatures average about 112 degrees.

More than 1,000 unhoused people currently sleep in tents in downtown Phoenix, in addition to the hundreds who fill emergency shelters nearby.

In an effort to prevent more heat associated deaths, Phoenix and Maricopa County joined local nonprofits this year to outfit a summertime shelter with 200 beds in an unused government building east of downtown.

Landscapers, construction workers and others who labor outside are also vulnerable to the intense summer heat.

A homeowner in Scottsdale late last week widely shared a video from his door camera of a delivery driver who appeared to be overcome Thursday by the heat as he briefly collapsed on the porch. The high hit 110 degrees that day.

Jill Ryan joined KJZZ in 2020 as a morning reporter, and she is currently a field correspondent and Morning Edition producer.