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Valley of Fire hikers ran out of water, died in 118-degree heat, park says

Updated July 25, 2023 - 8:40 pm

Two women who were found dead at Valley of Fire State Park were hiking on the park’s 4.6-mile Prospect Trail and ran out of water as the temperature reached 118 degrees, a state parks official said.

Jessica Rhodes, 34, and Diana Matienzo Rivera, 29, both of Las Vegas, were identified by the Clark County coroner’s office Tuesday as the women found dead at the park on Saturday.

The cause of their deaths is still under investigation.

Jonathan Brunjes, Nevada State Parks’ deputy administrator, acknowledged that while the coroner had yet to determine the official cause of death, it appeared they possibly succumbed to the heat.

“It is presumed that it is heat exhaustion,” Brunjes said.

Brunjes said the women were first reported missing sometime after 10 a.m. by another party that told Valley of Fire park rangers that the pair might have been low on resources adequate enough to handle such dangerous temperatures.

During a search, one of the women was found dead about a quarter-mile from the trail’s parking lot at about noon while the other woman was found dead farther up the trail, where the trail bisects a canyon, at about 2 p.m., Brunjes said.

Given where each of the women were found, it’s possible the woman found closer to the parking lot had been trying to return to where she might be able to get help, Brunjes said.

Hiking dangers

Valley of Fire had closed several trails to hiking for the summer, but since Saturday has closed additional trails, Brunjes said. Prospect, where the women died, as well as White Domes, Arrowhead, Pinnacles, Charlie Springs, Natural Arches, Fire Wave and Seven Wonders Loop are closed through Oct. 1.

Brunjes said that if anyone is planning to hike almost anywhere in Nevada during these high temperatures, they should plan to hike early, they should try to pick a day that’s cooler, and they should start hydrating days in advance, he said.

Brunjes said a person needs a liter of water for every two hours of hiking. Light clothing and plenty of sunscreen are also recommended.

“The most important thing is to know how to recognize the symptoms of heat exhaustion,” he said.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the symptoms of heat exhaustion include heavy sweating; cold, pale and clammy skin; a fast, weak pulse; nausea or vomiting; tiredness or weakness; dizziness, headache; and fainting.

The symptoms of heat stroke include a body temperature of 103 degrees or higher; hot, red, dry or damp skin; a fast, strong pulse; headache; dizziness; nausea; confusion and passing out.

An excessive heat warning was in effect for most of Southern Nevada through Sunday, according to the National Weather Service. The temperature as of 6 p.m. in nearby Overton was 117 degrees.

Last week, a 71-year-old man died while hiking in Death Valley National Park.

On Monday, 59-year-old Brian Laugeson and two children, ages 3 and 4, were found in a desert area near Cadiz Avenue and Parawan Street in Henderson after a missing person report, Henderson police said Tuesday. All three were in critical condition from possible heat exhaustion, police said Monday.

In that case, Laugeson faces two counts of child abuse or neglect with substantial bodily harm, police said.

Contact Brett Clarkson at bclarkson@reviewjournal.com.

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