Valley heat, faulty AC likely to blame in Ceres death

jholland@modbee.comJuly 3, 2013 

    alternate textJohn Holland
    Title: Staff writer
    Coverage areas: Agriculture, Turlock; local news editor on Sundays
    Bio: John Holland has been a reporter at The Bee for 12 years. He has a journalism degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and previously worked at the Union Democrat in Sonora and the Visalia Times-Delta.
    Recent stories written by John

— Stanislaus County officials Wednesday announced the first death believed to be caused by this week's severe heat, a 77-year-old Ceres man whose air conditioner malfunctioned.

The man's name was not disclosed by the coroner's division of the Sheriff's Department, nor was the location of his home.

Officials said he was found Tuesday evening on the floor in the modular home and taken to a hospital, where he died a short time later.

An autopsy determined that the man likely died because of the heat and other medical conditions, officials said. The air conditioner was blowing out air hotter than 100 degrees, they said.

"This unfortunate loss is a tragic reminder of how dangerous the valley heat can be," said Dr. John Walker, county health officer, in a news release. "It is essential that our county residents protect themselves and their neighbors from this period of extended heat and humidity."

Modesto had highs of 106 degrees Tuesday and 103 on Wednesday, according to the Modesto Irrigation District. The forecast calls for a high of 103 again today, then a dip into the 90s over the next week.

Officials are trying to prevent a disaster like the one in July 2006, when temperatures hit 111 for three straight days and 23 county residents died. They said a lack of the usual nighttime cooling made it hard for heat-stressed people to recover.

The forecast offers hope on that front: Lows are expected to be 71 at dawn Friday and 62 as day breaks Saturday.

Officials said that aside from the Ceres death, they have not seen "significant spikes" in heat-related ambulance transports, emergency room visits or other indicators.

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health is reminding employers of rules aimed at keeping outdoor workers safe from the heat. They include providing drinking water, shaded rest areas and emergency response plans.

The agency reported Wednesday that it is investigating two Central Valley deaths that might be heat-related. One case involves a farmworker near Coalinga, the other a construction worker in Yuba City.

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at or (209) 578-2385.

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