By Dan Whitcomb LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Los Angeles health officials on Friday issued a special "heat alert" for this weekend, urging residents to take special precautions with temperatures expected to soar into triple digits across the region. With California already baking under a record drought that has brought acute water shortages, forecasts called for temperatures to reach more than 100 degrees in downtown Los Angeles and even higher in some surrounding communities. "Extreme heat such as this is not just an inconvenience, it can be dangerous and even deadly, but we can protect ourselves, our families and our neighbors if we take steps to remain cool and hydrated," Dr. Jeffrey Gunzenhauser, the city's interim health director, said in issuing the heat alert. Gunzenhauser said some 60 "cooling centers" would be open at libraries, recreation centers and other community buildings throughout the weekend, offering shelter to residents suffering from what is predicted to be sweltering heat. He cautioned residents that small children, the elderly and pets should not be left alone in homes or vehicles with no air conditioning and said schools should take precautions during sporting events. "When temperatures are high, even a few hours of exertion may cause severe dehydration, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke," Gunzenhauser said. "Others who are frail or have chronic health conditions may develop serious health problems leading to death if they are exposed to high temperatures over several days," he said. California is in its third year of a devastating drought that has forced farmers to leave fields unplanted and left communities reliant on well water with little to drink. Mandatory conservation measures forbid actions such as letting sprinklers drench driveways and concrete walkways while watering the lawn, using a hose without a shut-off valve to wash a car and using drinkable water in fountains that do not recirculate it. Some communities have banned residents from filling their swimming pools, and in Southern California, residents have removed 2.5 million square feet of turf from their front and back yards, replacing water-thirsty grass with drought tolerant plants and other landscaping. (Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Susan Heavey)
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