Coastal storm cools California heatwave, tames southern wildfires

Southern California welcomed cooler temperatures and spotty rain on Saturday as a tropical storm drifted and faded off the Pacific coast, helping to end a blistering heat wave that nearly overwhelmed the state’s electrical grid.

Thunderstorms were forecast for the Los Angeles area on Saturday that could continue in mountainous areas on Sunday.

But after Hurricane Kay made landfall in Mexico this week, it quickly degraded to a tropical storm and weakened further until it mostly dissipated, said John Dumas, a meteorologist for the U.S. National Weather Service in Oxnard, Calif., adding the scattered rain added moisture left in the region from a storm that has been.

‘Is the worst over? Yes,’ said Dumas.

In Southern California, cooler temperatures and humidity calmed firefighters battling the massive Fairview Fire, about 75 miles southeast of Los Angeles, after sweltering heat pushed temperatures above 38°C in many locations this week.

The fire has threatened more than 10,000 homes and other buildings, but firefighters have made progress and said they expect complete containment on Monday.

Thousands of homes threatened in North

Fire officials warned, however, that communities in Northern California are still at risk from a heat wave and wildfires, and there is a chance of lightning Sunday in the northern Sierra. In the foothills east of Sacramento, the Mosquito Fire expanded to at least 134 square kilometers on Saturday, threatening 3,600 homes in Placer and El Dorado counties and blanketing the region in smoke.

“We are not seeing a corresponding drop in fire activity at this time,” said Cal Fire Battalion Chief Issac Sanchez.

Firefighters said on Saturday they were unable to rally any part of the Mosquito Fire, which has burned down near the town of Foresthill, which is home to about 1,500 people. David Hance was sleeping on the porch of his mother’s mobile home in Foresthill when he woke early Wednesday to a glowing red sky and was ordered to evacuate.

“It was actually pretty damn scary because they’re like, ‘Oh, yeah, it’s getting closer,'” he said. “It was like sunset in the middle of the night.”

The fire has blanketed much of the region with smoke, and California health officials urged people in affected areas to stay indoors whenever possible.

The cause of the Mosquito Fire remains under investigation. Pacific Gas & Electric said unspecified “electrical activity” occurred close to Tuesday’s report of the fire.

People stand in front of a row of houses as a bulldozer pushes sand past mounds of sand.
A police officer watches as heavy equipment strengthens sand berms as waves and tides from a tropical storm in Long Beach, California, on Saturday. (Ringo HW Chiu/The Associated Press)

Heat wave stops, but wait for floods

The US National Weather Service predicted an end to the debilitating heat wave in the Los Angeles area on Saturday. A flood watch remained in place in mountainous areas previously charred by wildfires until the end of the day, and there was the potential for some coastal flooding from high surf, Dumas said.

In Southern California, officials in coastal towns posted warning signs and made sandbags available to residents, fearing flooding. Minor flooding was reported in a beachfront parking lot and on some local roads in parched desert communities around Palm Springs.

A man walks past flames and burning trees.
A firefighter uses a drop torch to ignite backfires while fighting the Mosquito Fire in Volcanoville, California, on Friday. (Fred Greaves/Reuters)

Historic heat wave

September has already produced one of the hottest and longest heat waves ever recorded in California and some other western states. Nearly 54 million people received heat warnings and advisories across the region this week as temperature records were broken in many areas.

Scientists say climate change has made the West warmer and drier over the past three decades and that the weather will continue to make more extremes and wildfires more frequent and destructive. In the past five years, California has experienced the largest and most devastating fires in state history.

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