Southern California experienced its most intense heat wave of the year on Thursday as firefighters battled large, fast-moving blazes that forced evacuations. Meanwhile, the possibility of power outages = blackout loomed over the state after authorities announced a flexible alert due to extreme power demand.
The heat wave is expected to last through next week, possibly into Wednesday, bringing high temperatures to inland and coastal areas and increasing the risk of fires.
Firefighters made progress on Thursday in their fight against a wildfire near Castaic that had burned more than 5,000 acres overnight, but firefighters said the high temperatures and fire conditions facing firefighters in first line should serve as a warning of the extreme fire risk in the days to come.
“This should be a wake-up call for all of us,” said US Forest Service Fire Chief Robert Garcia. “The days ahead are going to be very difficult.”
The fire, called fire of the Road, exploded on 5,208 acres overnight and was 12% contained Thursday morning, according to an incident update by the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
One home was destroyed and 550 other structures remained threatened by fast-moving flames that Garcia described as “explosive fire behavior”.
No civilian casualties were reported, but seven firefighters were taken to hospitals with injuries related to heat exhaustion, Los Angeles County Fire Department Deputy Chief Thomas C. Ewald said.
All firefighters have been treated and discharged, but the number of injured also reminded firefighters of the extreme conditions firefighters are expected to face on the front lines on Thursday and in the days to come as the heatwave and fire conditions dangerous, linger in the area.
“For our people who are there, they don’t have the ability to go to an air-conditioned environment,” Ewald said. “They are on the line, they are not in the shadows. Their #1 tool is hydration and prep.
Nine helicopters and two fixed-wing aircraft were used throughout the night to fight the blaze. The plane was in the air at 6:30 a.m. Thursday, dumping fire retardant and water to douse hot spots and establish a perimeter around the fire.
But the heat wave and extreme fire conditions across the state also threatened to scatter resources. Firefighters made sure to launch the planes early Thursday morning, aware that they could be diverted to a houses in danger of fire near the US-Mexico border.
Low humidity, excessive heat and steep terrain also threaten responders’ efforts. According to the incident report, crews are focused on keeping the fire going west of Castaic Lake, east of Palomas Canyon, south of Fall Creek and north of Lake Hughes Road.
Fire was first reported along Highway 5 near Lake Hughes Road just after noon Wednesday, resulting in full lane closures in both directions. According to the California Department of Transportation, one northbound lane and two southbound lanes between Lake Hughes Road and Templin Highway remained closed Thursday. There was no timeline on when they might reopen.
The fire also caused evacuation orders for north of Northlake Hills Elementary School and south of Templin Highway. Evacuation orders for the Paradise Ranch Estates mobile home park – east of 5 and west of Castaic Lagoon, were lifted Thursday morning.
The Red Cross opened two shelters for evacuees, including Frazier Mountain High School, 700 Falcon Way in Lebec, and West Ranch High School, 26255 W. Valencia Blvd. in Santa Clarita.
Evacuations south of Northlake Hills Elementary School were lifted Wednesday night, according to the LA County Sheriff’s Department.
Schools are closed voluntarily, Jensen said. Northlake Hills Elementary School remained closed on Thursday. High schools in the Castaic region remained open.
Videos by KTLA-TV Channel 5 show that parts of the blaze produced whirlwinds of fire on Wednesday afternoon. At least 378 firefighters, two fixed-wing aircraft and nine helicopters were assigned to the blaze Thursday morning. .
Few said the blaze was fueled by fuels parched by years of drought.
A fast-moving wildfire in rural eastern San Diego County charred over 4,240 acres Raced through dry brush on Wednesday, injuring two people and destroying at least four buildings as the area baked in extreme heat.
Records already broken
The first day of a grueling heat wave brought new temperature readings in the Los Angeles area on Wednesday.
Woodland Hills reached 112 degrees, beating the previous date record of 111 degrees set in 1998, according to the National Weather Service in Oxnard.
The temperature could continue to climb “and it probably hasn’t yet,” said meteorologists.
Burbank’s high of 112 broke the previous daily record of 108 degrees set in 2017, and Sandberg reached 100 degrees, surpassing the previous high of 98 degrees, also in 2017, the weather service said.
Officials are concerned about power capacity in part because high temperatures are forecast not only in inland regions that typically scorch at this time of year, but also along many parts of the coast. This could mean that many more people turn on their air conditioners during peak hours.
Officials are asking Californians to limit electricity use when possible to minimize the strain on the state’s energy providers or risk blackouts. Loss of power during such extreme heat perhaps very dangerous, even deadlyespecially for the most vulnerable.
California officials on Wednesday issued a Statewide Flex Alert, as most of the state experienced extreme heat. A second flexible alert was issued for Thursday.
During a Flex Alert, consumers are asked to reduce their electricity consumption from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., when the grid is most stressed due to high demand and less energy available from solar panels.