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The Heat Is On

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Before the red glare of fireworks fills the night sky this Fourth of July, expect to see plenty of red and glaring on Southern California freeways--from brake lights and frustrated drivers.

Along with clear skies and a mild blast of summer heat, the forecast for this holiday weekend includes heavy traffic and crowded beaches and parks. Even the mosquitoes will be out in force.

With Independence Day falling on a Saturday this year, stealing a three-day weekend from those unlucky souls who have to work Friday, trips to the Sierra Nevada, Las Vegas and other traditional, faraway destinations should be less popular than in years past.

County lifeguards are preparing for more than a million sun worshipers to hit the local beaches, and most campsites along the coast and in the area foothills are booked.

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“Given the fact that we don’t have a long weekend this year, officially anyway, people will probably stay closer to home rather than taking long trips. Local traffic might be a problem,” said Jim Drago, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation.

Southern California freeways will be considerably busier than average, especially Thursday night and Friday morning when the sprint to the holiday weekend officially begins. On Sunday afternoon, the roads leading back home will be even more congested, Drago said.

Traffic on the Ventura Freeway also will be slowed by a stream of drivers fleeing the landslide bottleneck on Pacific Coast Highway, which officials hope to have open--at least one lane in each direction--for the holiday, said Margie Tiritilli of the local Caltrans office.

The good news is that Caltrans crews will halt all but necessary work on most freeways during the holiday, she said.

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Travelers would be smart to check their vehicle’s radiator, battery and tire pressure before hitting the hot roads and carry a couple jugs of water in case the engine or passengers overheat, said Jeffrey Springer of the Automobile Club of Southern California.

“If they haven’t gotten their car inspected, they should check their hoses and belts to make sure they’re OK before heading out,” Springer said.

The trouble on PCH in Malibu may work in favor of those flocking to the beach from the West Valley--but only if they take back-road routes, including Malibu Canyon Road, Topanga Canyon Boulevard and Kanan Dume Road. The lane closures on PCH are expected to scare away some holiday revelers who might otherwise head to Zuma, Point Dume and parts of Malibu, said Capt. Mike Cunningham, spokesman for the county lifeguards.

“It may be fairly crowded, but there should be plenty of room on the sand,” Cunningham said.

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The beaches and nearby parking lots in Santa Monica and Redondo Beach will have the biggest mobs Saturday because both are hosting evening fireworks shows, said Cunningham, who predicts the county will see a million beach-goers this weekend.

Big crowds also are predicted at the two city parks in the Valley that are putting on 9 p.m. fireworks displays: Lake Balboa Park in Encino and at the park at the Hansen Dam in Lake View Terrace.

“We’re expecting to see a lot of families at most of our larger parks,” said James Ward, superintendent for the Department of Recreation and Parks in the Valley. “This is the first major holiday of the summer, and a lot of people haven’t been out all winter because the weather’s been so cool.”

One warning for those headed to lakeside parks--the mosquitoes will be ready and waiting. The recent spell of hot weather will unleash a bumper crop of the annoying bloodsuckers, especially in areas near water, said Paul O’Connor, an ecologist with the county Vector Control District.

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“They’ll start coming out right around sundown, just when everyone’s out to see the fireworks,” O’Connor said.

Those folks heading to the mountains to escape the crowded city might be running into throngs of other city folk with the same idea. Most of the campgrounds in the Angeles National Forest may fill up by Friday, and those that take reservations already are booked.

Park spokeswoman Randi Jorjensen said they expect to see even bigger crowds than last year, when about 100,000 visitors headed to the hills, because many campsites in the Sierra and San Bernardino Mountains still have snow.

“It’s going to be a busy weekend,” Jorjensen said.

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Despite what people may find when they arrive, the drive won’t be as nasty as first expected because a 10-mile stretch of Angeles Crest Highway in northern Los Angeles County, closed since a December rockslide, will reopen in time for the holiday weekend, Caltrans said Tuesday.

The roadway, also known as California 2, is near Wrightwood in a popular recreation area. Under normal conditions the road would have been opened by Memorial Day, said Caltrans spokeswoman Jeanne Bonfilio, but heavy rainfall and unexpected late-season snow led to a monthlong delay in reopening the scenic route.

Along the coast, state park campsites have been booked for weeks, including those at Leo Carrillo State Beach and Point Mugu, said Russ Guiney, superintendent for the Malibu Region of the state Parks and Recreation Department. There is still room for day-trippers, but picnic areas and other spaces are available first-come, first-served.

“You better get there early, or you’ll be out of luck,” Guiney said.

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The California Highway Patrol will also be fully staffed over the holiday weekend and on the lookout for drunk drivers, said CHP Officer Rhett Price. Last year, 330 people were arrested for driving under the influence and 10 were killed on Los Angeles County roadways, CHP figures show.

Finally, those who plan to jump onto an airplane and fly away from L.A.'s holiday hordes should expect a delayed getaway.

At Los Angeles International Airport, passengers booked on domestic flights should arrive two hours in advance--an hour earlier than normal--and those flying to other countries should arrive three hours early, said airport spokeswoman Cora Fossett.

Passengers will have an easier time at Burbank Airport, which recommends passengers arrive an hour before their flight.

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Staff writer Darrell Satzman contributed to this story.


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