Excessive heat, severe fire danger, record-breaking energy consumption and, on top of that, bad air and rising humidity made for a day of extremes in Southern California on Saturday, with little relief expected in coming days.
Scorching temperatures reached into the triple digits, with only a few degrees separating Los Angeles communities and far-flung desert locales: 104 in Burbank and 108 in Palmdale; 110 in Woodland Hills and 107 in Yucca Valley. As the temperature rose, air conditioners hummed, busting electricity usage records for a Saturday throughout most of Southern California.
Downtown Los Angeles hit 97, falling one degree short of the record set in 1886, and at 89 degrees, the weather station at UCLA broke its record by one point. Indio registered an all-time high of 122, and the San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Park broke its record with 108. Elsewhere, temperatures skirted just below records, but mugginess made it feel much hotter.
"It's never been this hot," said Pam Ritchie, a San Fernando Valley native who was melting ice cubes on her wrists while she watched her son play baseball in the heat of the day at a Sherman Oaks park. Even this veteran of San Fernando Valley heat griped: "This is different. This is like Arizona."
Today's temperatures are expected to be only a few degrees lower, the National Weather Service said. And even though temperatures are expected to drop a bit more by Monday, little relief is forecast because meteorologists expect moisture-laced monsoonal winds to begin sweeping in.
Angelenos found both familiar and creative ways to stay cool. Umbrellas became parasols in Chinatown. On Hollywood's Walk of Fame, Maximus Allen, dressed as Batman and sweltering under a 10-pound black leather cape and a Bat mask made entirely of black rubber, kept bottles of frozen water at his waist.
The grass beneath almost every shade tree in Griffith Park was occupied by families, among them the Jomas, who do not have air conditioning. "Here, there's lots of shade," Roni Joma said. "If you go down to the beach, there's no shade."
Yet the beaches were packed. At Zuma Beach in Malibu, the parking lot was filled by 1 p.m. as 65,000 to 70,000 people sought sea breezes. Extra lifeguards were on hand, instructing swimmers to stay close to lifeguard stations. They urged beachgoers to make liberal use of water bottles and to slather on sunscreen repeatedly after swimming, even the waterproof brands.
"Even the volleyball players are wearing hats," Capt. Terry Yamamoto of the Los Angeles County Fire Department said.
The heat continued to work against firefighters, who feared that increased humidity could spawn thunderstorms and dry lightning as they continued their assault on the massive Sawtooth Complex fire near Yucca Valley. The blaze was 50% contained Saturday night.
Authorities said the 60,000-acre fire had claimed its first victim, 57-year-old Gerald Guthrie, whose body was found Saturday morning by a search and rescue team a mile from his Pioneertown home. He had been missing since Tuesday.
Fire authorities on Saturday could not estimate when the blaze would be contained. The fire, ignited a week ago by lightning, crossed the southeastern edge of the San Bernardino National Forest on Saturday afternoon, burning into the San Bernardino Mountains.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger visited the fire's Yucca Valley command post early Saturday morning, praising firefighters.
By late afternoon Saturday, both Southern California Edison and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power had reported new records for energy use on a weekend. Circuits became overloaded in Simi Valley, causing a brief outage.
"Usage is extremely high," said Steven Conroy, spokesman for Southern California Edison. "Conservation is an absolute must."
Power demand in Edison's 50,000-square-mile service area, which includes parts of Ventura, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, reached a weekend record of 20,700 megawatts about 4 p.m., Conroy said.
In Los Angeles, electricity demand hit 5,171 megawatts at 4:30 p.m., breaking the weekend record of 5,025 megawatts set last August, said Gale Harris, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles DWP.
Demand for electricity is lower on weekends than weekdays, when offices, schools and businesses are in operation. Unless the weather changes, power officials expect demand on Monday to break the state's all-time power consumption record.
Operators of the state power grid said they believe that they have enough energy to meet expected demand today and Monday but appealed to Californians to reduce energy use by setting thermostats at 78 or higher and avoiding afternoon appliance use.
Saturday was also a bad air day, with unhealthful conditions across the Los Angeles area. Ozone levels were high throughout the region, and wildfires worsened the air in mountain and desert areas.
"It's kind of a double whammy," said Sam Atwood, spokesman for the South Coast Air Quality Management District, which issued health advisories for the third day in a row. "This is definitely one of the smoggier days we've had this year."
But folks didn't need a record sheet to measure their heat-induced misery.
Truck driver Oscar Cardoso, 46, used his Peterbilt big rig cab's air conditioning to keep his wife and four small children cool.
"I got air conditioning so strong it makes you put a jacket on," said Cardoso, who had left his home in Victorville, where the high hit 111, and savored a cool ride to Echo Park Lake, about 15 degrees cooler. He played lakeside with his children, racing remote-controlled boats.
Then there was the topless runner who reveled in the heat of the day. At midafternoon, Peter Van Helden was well into his 10-mile jog through Griffith Park when passersby shouted: "Are you nuts?"
Van Helden tried to explain. "I came from Minnesota," he said. "There I ran in 5 below or 10 below, so this is heaven for me."
"The hotter the better," he said before he resumed his run. "Bring it on."
Times staff writers Cara Mia DiMassa, Rong-Gong Lin II, Sam Quinones, Jeffrey L. Rabin, Louis Sahagun and Deborah Schoch contributed to this report.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
How hot was it?
Temperature records broken or tied Saturday:
*--* Location... Temp. Old record/Year Indio... 122 117 / 1911 Ramona... 106 105/1978 Beaumont... 106* 106/1978 El Cajon... 104 98/1980 Yorba Linda... 103* 103/1978 La Mesa... 99 99/1978 Santa Ana... 98 97/1978 Vista... 98 96/1984 Westwood... 89 88/1984
Source: National Weather Service
* tied record