L.A. sees third day of record-setting temperatures as wildfires, outages bear down

LONG BEACH, CALIF. - SEPT. 1, 2022. The blazing sun silhouettes visitors to Signal Hill after another hot day across Southern California. A brutal heatwave is expected to last through the Labor Day weekend. (Luis Sinco /. Los Angeles Times)
The sun silhouettes visitors to Signal Hill in Long Beach after another hot day across Southern California. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Southern California baked under a third day of record-setting heat as firefighters continued battling wildfires across the state and officials grappled with triple-digit temperatures that have spurred further calls for voluntary energy use reduction to avoid rolling blackouts.

The California Independent System Operator, which manages the power grid, has extended a Flex Alert into Saturday, officials announced Friday evening.

During a Flex Alert, consumers are asked to conserve energy from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., hours when the grid is most stressed.

"Californians are strongly urged to lower electricity use by setting thermostats to 78 or higher, health permitting, avoid using major appliances, and turning off all unnecessary lights," the officials said. "Tomorrow’s Flex Alert is the fourth consecutive call for conservation, as much of the state remains gripped in an extensive heat wave."

The Antelope Valley saw two high temperature records broken on Friday.

Lancaster's high of 113 degrees broke the previous daily record of 112 degrees set in 1950, said Tom Fisher, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard. Palmdale's high of 110 degrees eclipsed the previous high of 109 in 1996.

Forecasters will be keeping an eye on conditions Saturday and Sunday, Fisher said, adding that Sunday will probably bring the heat wave's most intense temperatures.

The Route fire, which ignited Wednesday afternoon near Castaic, prompting mandatory evacuations, has charred 5,208 acres, destroyed two structures and threatened hundreds more, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department. As of Friday night, , the fire was 56% contained.

All evacuation orders were lifted Thursday afternoon and the blaze is expected to be fully contained by next week, fire officials said. Crews will mop up hot spots near containment lines before the midday heat sets in, officials said.

The two right lanes of northbound Interstate 5 will be closed through the Labor Day weekend so crews can make emergency repairs to the roadway that was damaged in the fire, officials said. The lanes will be closed between Lake Hughes Road and Templin Highway while the two left lanes remain open. Southbound I-5 lanes have reopened.

Low humidity, excessive heat and steep terrain continue to pose significant challenges for firefighters. Wind gusts up to 20 mph could cause the blaze to grow around the perimeter, officials said.

A firefighting vehicle rolls through the burn zone of the Route fire near Castaic.
A firefighting vehicle rolls through the burn zone of the Route fire near Castaic. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Carrie Galloway, 51, who lives in Valencia south of the evacuation zone, didn’t leave her house because of the fire but said she wishes she had.

Galloway heard helicopters flying over her house Wednesday and went outside to see the flames. She said that because of all the smoke, she and her daughter are suffering from headaches and burning eyes, throats and sinuses.

“I ended up testing myself for COVID three times because both my daughter and I felt so sick,” she said. “I'm negative for COVID — it’s just the fire.”

Galloway said it reached about 112 degrees at their house Thursday afternoon and that her truck was covered in ash.

“Enough that my daughter could write in it like it was snow,” she said. “The air is a terrible, dirty brown from the smoke.”

A late-August "heat dome" also ushered in blistering temperatures this week that could break records. The National Weather Service has issued a heat advisory through Monday for most of L.A. County, particularly in inland and valley areas.

Lancaster and Palmdale could see record temperatures near 110 degrees Sunday, said NWS forecaster Kristen Stewart, and Burbank could hit 108.

Near the Route fire, temperatures were in the mid-80s at about 9 a.m. Friday and are expected to rise to around 100 around midday, according to the weather service.

“I know L.A. is not entirely used to the heat like people in the desert, but this heat is very dangerous and it’s long-lasting,” Stewart said. “It can take a toll on your body very quickly if you’re outdoors.”

Stewart recommended that residents — particularly elderly people or those with underlying health conditions — stay inside as much as possible, limit outdoor activities and if they don't have air conditioning to try to find someplace cool, such as a grocery store, library or cooling shelter.

"You should always stay hydrated but especially in this heat," she added.

A highway sign reading "San Diego 31" that was scorched by the Border 32 fire in San Diego County
A highway sign that was scorched by the Border 32 fire in east San Diego County. (Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Officials are worried because high temperatures are forecast for portions of the coast in addition to inland regions, placing even more stress on the electric grid.

More than 1,400 outages are scheduled in the next few weeks across Southern California, which could potentially affect up to 65,668 customers in the region, according to Southern California Edison's power outage awareness map. As of Friday, there were 62 outages with 6,328 customers affected.

David Song, a Edison spokesman, emphasized that not all of those outages are planned for Friday and estimated hundreds of planned outages were rescheduled because of the ongoing heat wave.

Song stressed the need for customers to set their thermostats to 78 degrees or above between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m., hours when more customers using rooftop solar panels are coming onto the grid and turning on their air conditioners, raising the possibility of rolling blackouts. He recommended customers pre-cool their homes before 4 p.m. to make sure they stay at a comfortable level.

It’s also important to use open windows and ceiling fans during the overnight hours instead of relying on air conditioning, to give transformers the ability to cool down, Song said.

“People ask, ‘What’s the difference if I conserve if there’s 40 million people in the state?’ " he said. "That transformer typically feeds one to six customers, and if there’s a pole near you, they feed you and four or five of your neighbors. If you’re not conserving and if that transformer were to fail, that’s partly your doing.”

Song said customers will have to continue conservation efforts through the Labor Day weekend in to get through the heat wave.

“We’re on Day 3 of this and our customers have stepped up and done a great job of conservation," he added. "As we get into the holidays and everyone gets fatigued, it’s understandable they’ll get sick of this, but if they continue to conserve and persevere to get us through the middle of next week, we’ll be in good shape."

Glendale Water and Power warned that it may have to implement rolling power outages starting Sunday through Tuesday if not enough residents conserve energy during the heat wave.

Mynor Delcid, 24, who lives in Historic Filipinotown with his father, had his power go out Thursday night, leaving them with no air conditioning or cold water. Because his dad has high blood pressure, they decided to stay in their car for a few hours with the AC on.

Delcid said he heard from neighbors, who also had their power go out, that the blackout resulted from a strained power grid.

“It was disconcerting because it was just extremely hot to the point that we had to go outside,” he said. “The heat is dangerous for everybody, not just for me for also for my neighbors. My dad having hypertension was a factor, but if people are experiencing [another health issue], that would be even more dangerous.”

Delcid said the power came back on at about 3:30 a.m. Friday. To prepare for the long weekend, he and his dad bought a cooler, lamps and ice, just in case there is another blackout.

Meanwhile, the hot, dry conditions continue to hamper firefighting efforts throughout the state.

In San Diego County, the 4,400-acre Border 32 fire, which ignited Wednesday and prompted evacuation orders for some areas, was 65% contained as of Friday night, according to Cal Fire.

By Thursday evening, the San Diego County Sheriff's Department had allowed some residents living west of Cochera Via Drive and east of Potrero Valley Road to return to their homes.

Two civilians suffered burns and were taken to the UC San Diego Health Regional Burn Center, said Cal Fire Capt. Thomas Shoots. Three inmate firefighters suffered heat-related injuries, with two transported to hospitals for treatment.

Some residents weren’t able to evacuate their homes because they “walked out and saw fire all around them,” Shoots said.

Fire officials prioritized sending crews to help those people get out. Three homes have burned down so far.

“It’s always very challenging, especially in the initial hours, getting people out of harm's way,” Shoots said. “There were close calls — an elderly woman didn’t have a ride and the San Diego sheriff got to her house just before it burned to the ground.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.