Man dies in Death Valley as California national park swelters in extreme heat

Man dies in Death Valley as California national park swelters in extreme heat

High temperature ‘may have been a factor’ in death of 71-year-old Steve Curry in Golden Canyon area, park officials say

Edward HelmoreThu 20 Jul 2023 19.44 EDT

A 71-year-old man collapsed and died in Death Valley on Tuesday as temperatures in the valley – the point of lowest elevation in North America as well as one of the hottest places in the world – reached at least 121F (49.4C).

“Heat may have been a factor in his death,” Death Valley national park officials said in a press release.

TOPSHOT-US-CLIMATE-WEATHER-HEAT<br>TOPSHOT - National Park Service Rangers Gia Ponce (L) and Christina Caparelli are photographed by Ranger Nicole Bernard next to a digital display of an unofficial heat reading at Furnace Creek Visitor Center during a heat wave in Death Valley National Park in Death Valley, California, on July 16, 2023. Tens of millions of Americans braced for more sweltering temperatures Sunday as brutal conditions threatened to break records due to a relentless heat dome that has baked parts of the country all week. By the afternoon of July 15, 2023, California's famous Death Valley, one of the hottest places on Earth, had reached a sizzling 124F (51C), with Sunday's peak predicted to soar as high as 129F (54C). Even overnight lows there could exceed 100F (38C). (Photo by Ronda Churchill / AFP) (Photo by RONDA CHURCHILL/AFP via Getty Images)

The man, whom authorities identified as Steve Curry from Los Angeles, collapsed outside a restroom in the Golden Canyon area. He was found wearing a sun hat and hiking clothes, and park officials believe he had just been hiking the popular trail there.

Curry was interviewed by the Los Angeles Times before he died and told journalists that he had hiked that morning from Golden Canyon to Zabrieskie Point, a distance of about 2 miles. The newspaper published a photograph of him wearing sunscreen, a hat and gloves as he huddled with a bottle of water in a small shaded spot under a metal sign.

“Everything is hot here,” he said as he touched the sign.

The Inyo county coroner’s office had not by Thursday determined a cause of death, but the park service noted that the temperature inside Golden Canyon was probably much higher than the 121F recorded at nearby Furnace Creek due to canyon walls radiating the sun’s heat.

Park rangers, the advisory noted, encourage people to visit Death Valley safely in the summer by sightseeing only short distances from air-conditioned cars, or hiking in the park’s cooler mountains. Curry was found in the mid-afternoon; rangers do not recommend hiking at low elevations after 10.00am.

The Inyo county sheriff’s office said that Curry eventually left the location where he was interviewed and hiked back to the Golden Canyon trailhead. Park visitors then noticed Curry near the restroom and called for help. A helicopter was unable to respond because of the heat, officials said.

Park rangers performed CPR and used an automated external defibrillator, but were unable to save Curry, according to the sheriff’s office.

The latest fatality comes two weeks after a 65-year-old man from the San Diego area was found dead in his vehicle in the park. In that incident, too, the park service said, hiking in extreme heat appears to have caused his death.

The day before the man was found on 3 July, the daytime high was 126F with an overnight low of 98F. The air conditioning in his vehicle was not operational and it had two flat tires.

The extreme heat in the valley has made rescuing visitors difficult. Heat causes air to thin and the park service says often helicopters cannot be deployed.

The ongoing heatwave has attracted what park rangers call “heat-seekers” – people seeking to experience the extreme temperatures – taking selfies next to Furnace Creek’s digital thermometer.

Alessia Dempster, visiting from Edinburgh, Scotland, was quoted by the Guardian earlier this week saying: “It’s very hot. I mean, especially when there’s a breeze, you would think that maybe that would give you some slight relief from the heat, but it just really does feel like an air blow dryer just going back in your face.”

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