By JENNIFER STEINHAUER
FRESNO, Calif., July 27 — A searing heat wave nearly two weeks old is responsible for more than 100 deaths across California, the authorities said Thursday. So overwhelmed is the local coroner’s office here that it has been forced to double-stack bodies.
Most of the deaths have occurred in the landlocked Central Valley, the state’s agricultural spine, where triple-digit temperatures have lately been the norm. The heat has been linked to at least 22 deaths here in Fresno County, whose funeral homes have offered to help with the coroner’s backlog.
“We’re just trying to catch up,” said Joseph Tiger, a deputy coroner in Fresno. “I have been here 10 years, and I have never seen it this bad. Our boss has been here over 20, and he hasn’t seen it this bad either. For the last two weeks it has just been unbearable hot.”
The Governor’s Office of Emergency Services said the heat wave had been confirmed as the cause of death among at least 53 people around the state. Pending autopsies, heat-related causes are presumed in the death of scores of others, said Roni Java, a spokeswoman for the emergency services office.
Many of these suspected heat deaths have been among the elderly, who often live as shut-ins and will not open windows, said Loralee Cervantes, the Fresno County coroner.
The toll of such casualties has no recent precedent in California. According to data provided by the California Department of Health Services, the greatest number of heat-related deaths in the state since 1989 had been 40, in 2000. A department spokeswoman, Patti Roberts, said data prior to 1989 were unavailable.
Among the dead here were a 38-year-old worker found in a field, an unidentified man around 40 who made it to a hospital emergency room where his body temperature was recorded at 109.9 degrees and a 58-year-old man who was found drunk. Statewide, Ms. Java said, the youngest person killed by the heat has been a 20-year-old man from San Diego, and the oldest a 95-year-old man in Imperial County, on the Mexican border.
A doctor and his assistant toiled here on Thursday in the coroner’s office, which recently grew to 50 beds from 25 after getting a bioterrorism grant but has rarely had 25 bodies. On Thursday morning there were 58.
The morgue was converted from an eyeglass factory several years ago and has no air-conditioning in crucial areas. Decomposition has been a problem, Ms. Cervantes said, and bodies have piled up because of the lack of space.
“This has been our biggest challenge,” Ms. Cervantes said in an interview. “It’s frustrating.”
While the Central Valley is used to temperatures crackling in the triple digits at this time of year, the evenings tend to be cooler. But temperatures in recent days have been lingering in the 80’s after sunset, mixed with humidity far higher than this region is accustomed to.
By midday Thursday the mercury had hit 112 in Fresno, though temperatures elsewhere had dropped and weather forecasters were predicting a break in the heat almost everywhere in the state by Friday.
In the meantime, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said, state workers are doing everything possible to prevent additional deaths.
“The summer heat wave continues to be dangerous as California has seen record-breaking, consecutive days of triple-digit temperatures,” Mr. Schwarzenegger said in a statement. “A mobilized force of local workers will continue to knock on doors and make phone calls to protect our vulnerable residents who may be exposed to the relentless heat.”
The record temperatures have also hit farmers hard, with roughly 16,500 cows, 1 percent of the state’s dairy herd, dying of the heat, according to California Dairies, the state’s largest milk cooperative. Further, panting, miserable cows, which lack the benefit of sweat glands, have yielded 10 percent to 20 percent less milk than usual, said trade groups and dairy farmers in the region. California produces more milk than any other state in the country, providing about 12 percent of the American supply.
Six counties have declared states of emergency because of the large number of dead livestock, and the California Department of Food and Agriculture has waived a regulation requiring haulers of dead animals to transport them to rendering plants in eight counties in the Central Valley. The waiver frees the haulers to leave the carcasses in landfills.
“It is just a bad, bad situation,” said Larry Collar, the quality assurance manager for California Dairies. “In 25 years in Southern California, this is the most extreme temperatures we have ever seen and the most extreme length of time we have seen.”
The high temperatures have also caused problems with field crops around the state.
“We have been having trouble mainly in the Central Valley with the walnuts,” said Ann Schmidt-Fogarty, a spokeswoman for the California Farm Bureau. “The intensity of the sun and heat actually burns them inside the shell.”
In addition, she said, the weather has caused delicate fruits like peaches, nectarines and plums to ripen unevenly.
At the Te Velde dairy farm in Bakersfield, about 100 miles south of here, 16 cows have perished in the last 11 days, and 12 more have been sent to slaughter because they could not handle the heat, said Ralph Te Velde, 59, who has run that family farm for three decades.
The rest of his 1,600 cows sought relief under a patch of water misters Thursday morning, but by 9:30 a.m. some were already showing signs of distress, their fat pink tongues dangling to their chins.
One of the herd, her five-minute-old calf being licked by a neighboring cow a few feet away, was being hosed down by Mr. Te Velde’s son. At the end of the lot, dead cows were piled up, their carcasses a twisted black and white mass.
Mr. Te Velde and other dairy farmers have struggled to get rendering companies to come and get dead livestock. “The main challenge is a disposal challenge in the Central Valley,” said Steve Lyle, a spokesman for the Department of Food and Agriculture.
Dino Giacomazzi, a dairy farmer in Hanford, between Fresno and Bakersfield, said he had been watching Yahoo! Weather for days, hoping to see the last of the heat.
“We spend a lot of time and money making sure these cows are comfortable all the time,” Mr. Giacomazzi said. “Because uncomfortable cows don’t make milk.”
Fire Threatens Transmission Lines
SACRAMENTO, July 27 (AP) — A wind-driven wildfire near the Oregon border is threatening the major power transmission lines between California and the Pacific Northwest, though California grid operators said Thursday that they could reroute electricity if the lines went dead.
State and federal air tankers, ground crews and equipment are being diverted from other areas to fight the fire, which is burning among three transmission lines about a mile and a half apart. The fire is paralleling the lines, which together carry about 4,200 megawatts between the Bonneville Power Administration, in Washington, and California.
The fire, caused by lightning, was discovered Tuesday and had grown to more than 400 acres by Thursday.
Carolyn Marshall contributed reporting from San Francisco for this article.