Despite promises, California doesn’t know how many people died in record summer heat wave
This story has been updated
The state of California spent its first $5 million in emergency funds this year as wildfires, which had burned nearly 2,000 structures, consumed $6 billion and caused hundreds of thousands of homes to be destroyed, began to recede.
And then, just two months later in July, the state’s official death toll due to the deadly 2018 heat wave reached its highest number since the state started tracking them.
But as of Monday, California’s official count of those who died in the record-breaking summer heat wave was at 748, and as of July 16, California had spent just $1.3 million on emergency disaster relief, according to numbers provided by the state’s Office of Emergency Services.
The money is intended for public health and social services, like water and sewer infrastructure improvements.
The state was the first to begin using the funds, which were made available in the state’s 2018 budget and have since been expanded to all of next fiscal year’s operating budget.
In its 2018 budget, the California State Legislature approved spending an additional $2.8 billion from the fund. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who took office last year in July, said at one point he believed California’s state-wide death toll could hit 1,000 and the fund could go all the way to $5 billion.
The last state-wide heat wave killed more than 400 people in 2017 and 2018. It began in August 2017 and continued through July 2018, with temperatures topping 100 degrees fahrenheit as California battled record-setting wildfires. The next heat wave began June 21, and was caused by a heat wave that had already killed six people and left hundreds dead in Southern California.
In its report published last week, the governor’s office said that the state’s official death toll from the 2018 heat wave surpassed the 1,000 mark for the first time.
This year’s figure is based on coroners’ office counts, but Newsom said that he is working with the state’s medical examiner’s office, which performed autopsies, to try to