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Heat Eases Grip as Brush Fires Rage

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

San Diego County got a slight reprieve from the heat Thursday as temperatures dipped a few degrees, but the heat is expected to continue at least until the middle of next week.

Fires continued to plague the area as a large arson blaze consumed more than 1,000 acres of brush north of Santa Ysabel and raged out of control late Thursday, endangering houses and forcing the evacuation of 400 people.

Several brush fires that were started Tuesday and Wednesday by arsonists were controlled Thursday as hundreds of battle-weary firefighters struggled against blistering heat and gusty winds.

The forecast through Tuesday calls for more unusually hot weather but with temperatures dropping a little in most areas of San Diego County, according to the National Weather Service.

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Thursday’s high at Lindbergh Field was 78 degrees, well below Wednesday’s sweltering 91. Downtown temperatures normally are about 73 degrees this time of year.

Around the county, temperatures dipped slightly. It was 117 in Borrego Springs, 100 in Campo, 99 in Alpine, 98 in Ramona, 97 at the San Diego Wild Animal Park, 96 in Escondido, 95 in Poway, 92 in Vista, 91 in National City and 90 in El Cajon.

Today’s forecast for San Diego calls for a high of 75 and a low of 65 tonight. Saturday’s high is expected to reach 78 downtown, with a slight rise in humidity as moisture moves up from southern Baja California, where a hurricane is churning off the coast.

Inland valleys will reach highs of 104 this weekend, while the beaches will remain relatively cool in the upper 70s. The desert is expected to remain very hot, with highs from 106 to 114 degrees.

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Coastal highs will reach 78 today and the low 80s Saturday.

The slight drop in heat is because of the gradual eastward shift of a massive high-pressure system over the Southwest that has caused the recent heat wave.

The latest brush fire in the county broke out about 2:15 p.m. Thursday at Morrettis Junction, just north of Santa Ysabel. The blaze scorched more than 1,000 acres, closed parts of two highways and threatened the Mataguay Scout Reservation. The fire was set deliberately and was under investigation, fire officials said.

Firefighters had problems controlling the fire because of high temperatures and very heavy brush, said Audrey Hagan, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry.

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More than 450 firefighters battled the blaze with the help of 31 engines, one helicopter, one air tanker, four bulldozers and three hand crews.

California 76 and California 79 were closed from Lake Henshaw to Mesa Grande Road, the forestry department said. Structures in the area were threatened, but no damage was reported.

The CDF reported an evacuation of Mataguay Scout Reservation. Don Templeman, a Boy Scouts of America spokesman, said 150 boys, 25 summer camp staff, 25 other adults and 200 Navy Seabees were evacuated from the camp.

The Sheriff’s Department opened Warner Union Elementary District School in Warner Springs as an evacuation shelter. The school is 5 miles northeast of the blaze.

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Two firefighters suffered minor injuries while fighting the fire, said CDF spokeswoman Delores Frenter.

Water and power consumption continued to rise across the county.

The city Water Utilities Department’s water-use reduction rate, as high as 17.8% last week, dropped as customers used 2.6% more water than expected Wednesday, said department spokesman Kurt Kidman.

However, the city’s overall savings rate since June 1--when the city and county set a summertime water-reduction goal of 10%--remains high at 17%.

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The San Diego County Water Authority, the county’s main supplier of drinking water, continued to operate at capacity after water consumption jumped 20% the past few days, said authority spokesman Jim Melton.

That is not as desperate as it sounds, however, as the authority routinely operates at capacity during the summer with a rising number of customers but no expansion of the drinking water infrastructure, Melton said.

“I think people have been conserving water, but at the first sign of hot weather, they fold,” he added. “You can’t get an accurate assessment by looking at daily consumption. It’s more reasonable to look at the monthly figures.”

Another power consumption record was set locally as San Diego Gas & Electric Co. registered 54,462 megawatt hours for all of Thursday, breaking the 53,500 megawatt-hour record set in September, 1988, said utility spokesman Fred Vaughn. Thursday’s peak consumption topped off at 2,700 megawatts, far below the 3,000-megawatt record set Wednesday, Vaughn added.

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