Faced with a record heat wave that is suffocating California and fueling two major fires, officials have extended a flexible alert calling for voluntary energy conservation until Friday, in hopes of preventing power outages.
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.
Flex alerts were also issued on Wednesday and Thursday. The heat wave is expected to continue into next week.
The move comes as firefighters began making progress on a large blaze in northern LA County.
Officials made the unusual decision on Thursday to pull some of the firefighters on the front lines of the road blaze that was burning along the vineyard after several crew members suffered from heat-related illness.
The order to back off, a fire official said, was to reduce the risk of firefighters tackling the most grueling tasks as temperatures soared past 110 degrees in the region. Instead, crews would focus on an aerial assault after seven firefighters had already been treated for heat-related injuries the day before.
“This is a tactical break for the crews that are experiencing the greatest heat impact,” Los Angeles County Fire Department Deputy Chief Thomas C. Ewald said. “We’re just trying to take the pressure off the firefighters online.”
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.
Crews made progress on Thursday in their fight against the wildfire near Castaic, which had scorched 5,208 acres, but officials said high temperatures and fire conditions on the front lines should serve as a warning of extreme fire risk in the coming days.
“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 Route fire was 12% under control on Thursday morning, according to an incident update by the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
One house was destroyed and 550 other structures remained threatened by fast-moving flames that Garcia described as “explosive fire behavior”.
However, as the heat rose on Thursday afternoon, firefighters said they saw no immediate threats to structures or lives and decided to withdraw some firefighters on the ground until temperatures drop a little. little later in the day.
“I think once the sun goes down we’ll see the temperatures drop and the ability for crews to get out there and do a good job when the heat drops a little bit,” Ewald said.
At 1 p.m., all evacuation orders were lifted and residents were allowed to return home.
Still, fire officials said engine builders would remain on the ground to try to extend containment lines around the blaze.
It’s rare for fire officials to pull resources back, especially when high temperatures increase the threat of fires, but Ewald said “the No. 1 threat right now is to our firefighters. We want to reduce the intensity a bit.
On Wednesday, seven firefighters were taken to hospital with what officials said were heat-related injuries, and firefighters hoped to avoid further injuries as temperatures remained above 110 degrees Thursday afternoon.
“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. Fire officials made sure to launch the planes early Thursday morning, aware that they could be diverted to a blaze threatening homes 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.
The 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 led to evacuation orders for north of Northlake Hills Elementary School and south of the Templin Highway. The orders were lifted on Thursday afternoon, welcome news for residents fleeing the blaze and still seeking to escape the scorching heat.
Cesar Constantino, 48, and his wife were not in their Paradise Ranch Estates mobile home when the fire broke out on Wednesday, but their phones started ringing with calls from neighbors warning them of the approaching flames .
Their three children grabbed the important family documents, their dog, Jokey, and their two guinea pigs and headed to the Red Cross Evacuation Center at West Ranch High School for the night.
Constantino and nearly 40 others spent the night in the gym, where they struggled without air conditioning. On Thursday afternoon, he sat near the front of the gymnasium where residents had to check in, the only place with a working air conditioning unit.
Instead, the shelter is equipped with four large fans to keep people cool. Some residents opted to sleep in their cars in the parking lot instead.
On Thursday morning, the property manager notified Constantino that the electricity and water were still out in the mobile home park.
“We need air conditioning,” he said. “Maybe we can go back tonight.”
Capt. Mark McCurdy of Los Angeles County Station 149 and his crew were first on the scene of the fire on Wednesday when they saw it spreading rapidly across the grass on the north side of the 5 Freeway .
Even then, the heat took its toll on the firefighters.
“I’ve been doing this for a little while now and yesterday was even hard for me,” he said. “On a day like yesterday, you’re still pushing as hard as you would on a normal day, but that makes it harder.”
The Red Cross operated its shelter at West Ranch High School at 26255 W. Valencia Blvd. in Santa Clarita, but had closed a shelter at Frazier Mountain High School Thursday afternoon. With evacuation orders lifted, a Red Cross spokesman said, the two sites were no longer needed.
Northlake Hills Elementary School remained closed on Thursday. High schools in the Castaic region remained open.
Videos from KTLA-TV Channel 5 show parts of the blaze producing whirlwinds of fire on Wednesday afternoon. At least 378 firefighters, two fixed-wing aircraft and nine helicopters were assigned to the blaze Thursday morning.
Los Angeles County Fire Inspector Craig Little said the blaze was started by fuels that had dried out from years of drought.
Records already broken
The first day of a grueling heat wave on Wednesday brought new temperature records to the Los Angeles area.
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 can be very dangerous, even fatal, especially for the most vulnerable.