Record-topping temperatures and dozens of fires are being reported across California as the state continues to battle with extreme heat, driven by the climate crisis.
In Woodlands Hills, Los Angeles, it reached 121F (49.4C) on Sunday, the highest temperature ever recorded in the county along with Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo, the National Weather Service (NWS) said. The previous record was 119F in July 2006.
The temperature was on par with California’s Death Valley, typically one of the hottest places on the planet.
It wasn’t the only record-breaking temperature in the Golden State. Riverside hit 117F, the highest ever temperature for September, NWS reported, while at 106F, Santa Ana topped its record for the day.
Downtown San Francisco also set a record on Sunday with a high of 100F (37.7C), topping the previous mark by 5 degrees.
“By our calculations, over 99% of California’s population is under an Excessive Heat Warning or Heat Advisory today,” the weather service in Sacramento tweeted on Sunday afternoon.
A 41-year-old woman died while hiking on a trail near Calabasas amid soaring temperatures, LA County sheriff’s department said, prompting authorities shut down trails in the Santa Monica Mountains.
The soaring temperatures were also driving the highest power use of the year, straining the electrical grid and threatened power outages for millions.
Due to extreme heat forecasts, California Independent System Operator (CISO) urged users to conserve power on Monday.
“Labor Day weekend temperatures are forecast up to 15-25 degrees above normal for California, and the grid operator is predicting an increase in electricity demand, primarily from air conditioning use,” the operator said.
“Overnight temperatures statewide are projected to be at least 5-15 degrees higher than normal, which doesn’t allow infrastructure to cool down.”
Pacific Gas & Electric, the state’s largest utility, warned customers that it might cut power starting on Tuesday because of expected high winds and heat that could create even greater fire danger.
Some of the state’s largest and deadliest fires in recent years, including the Camp Fire in 2018, have been sparked by downed power lines and other utility equipment.
Red-flag warnings for high fire danger blanketed the state and dozens of blazes were reported.
The climate crisis is driving California’s dangerous heatwaves and life-threatening wildfire surge. Southern California has warmed by about 3F in the last hundred years and rainfall has declined, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Environmental scientist Dana Nuccitelli tweeted on Sunday: “It's the first week of September and California has already broken its record for most acreage burned by wildfires, set a mere 2 years ago, by 10%.”
Annie Leonard, executive director of Greenpeace, tweeted: “Fellow Californians: How about for every time we say aloud 'It's sooo hot’, we also call Gov Newsom & ask him to stop expanding fossil fuel (FF) permits, be the leader CA needs, and invest in a just & managed FF decline that cares for impacted workers?”
Fellow Californians: How about for every time we say aloud "It's sooo hot", we also call Gov Newsom & ask him to stop expanding fossil fuel (FF) permits, be the leader CA needs, and invest in a just & managed FF decline that cares for impacted workers? Phone: 1-(916) 445-2841.
— Annie Leonard (@AnnieMLeonard) September 7, 2020
Late on Saturday, 207 people were airlifted in military helicopters after being trapped by an explosive wildfire at a camping ground in the Sierra National Forest.
Two people were severely injured, according to the Madera Country Sheriff’s Office. Two campers refused to leave and their status is unknown.
The blaze, named the Creek Fire, has raced across thousands of acres of woodland. Thousands of people are evacuating amid reports that homes and businesses have burned.
Some 800 firefighters are struggling to get any containment after 48 hours due to the blistering heat, dried out vegetation and difficult terrain.
The Creek Fire has also spawned two fire tornadoes that caused pilots to alter flight paths on Sunday.
Today I was flying from San Jose to Las Vegas on SWA & I looked out my window & I saw this cloud. I l found out that it is a cumulonimbus flammagenitus cloud aka pyrocumulonimbus cloud, a type of cloud that forms above a source of heat, such as a wildfire #CreekFire pic.twitter.com/HCqyWiHpNx
— Thalia Dockery (@SweetBrown_Shug) September 6, 2020
Neil Lareau, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Nevada Reno, told the Visalia Times Delta that the speed of Creek Fire is likely to outstrip the devastating Camp Fire which wiped out the town of Paradise and left 85 people dead two years ago.
Other fires were reported in Southern California leading to evacuations in San Diego and San Bernardino counties.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, said the latter blaze, called the El Dorado Fire, started on Saturday morning and was caused by a smoke-generating pyrotechnic device used during a gender-reveal party. Cal Fire said more than 14,100 firefighters were battling two dozen major fires in the state. California has seen 900 wildfires since August 15, many of them started by an intense series of thousands of lightning strikes.
The blazes have burned more than 1.5 million acres (2,343 square miles). There have been eight fire deaths and nearly 3,300 structures destroyed.
Wires contributed to this report