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Southland faces possible record-setting heat, heightened wildfire risk this weekend

Southland faces possible record-setting heat, heightened wildfire risk this weekend
Smoke seen from Thousand Oaks rises from a brush fire in the hills of Simi Valley. By late Friday, it had charred more than 180 acres. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Climbing temperatures and burgeoning wildfires — including two stubborn blazes that erupted Friday in the Los Angeles area — marked the start of what could be a troubling weekend for much of California, authorities said.

The heat wave was expected to intensify Saturday and Sunday, the National Weather Service said. Temperatures could reach triple digits even in some coastal communities, according to forecasters. Higher demand for electricity and the risk of heat-related illness are expected to accompany the above-average temperatures, authorities said.

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The sizzling temperatures are making it more difficult for firefighters to battle the roughly 20 active wildfires that have charred hillsides and forests across drought-parched California.

Late Friday, firefighters were battling fresh blazes in the Angeles National Forest above Glendora and in the hills in Simi Valley.

The fire in the national forest started about 1 p.m. off California 39 near Rincon Red Box Road, according to forest spokesman Andrew Mitchell. The road was closed and about 40 people were evacuated from two campgrounds.

About 1,800 acres had been charred by Friday night and at least one cabin had been destroyed among the four structures reported burned. Five firefighters suffered minor injuries. Fire crews from Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties were assisting, and the cause of the blaze was under investigation.

Melissa Ruiz, 30, of San Dimas, said her boyfriend's mother's cabin, one in a cluster of three, burned down in the fast-moving fire. Ruiz said she saw the place she once called home go up in flames in online footage.

"We lived there on and off," Ruiz said as she fought tears, "but it is still home."

"It was bound to happen sooner or later," she said. "It's just sad that we weren't able to prepare better."

A wildfire also erupted midafternoon in Simi Valley — the second one of the day — and had charred more than 180 acres by late Friday as firefighters from several agencies fought to contain it.

The blaze, called the Rustic fire, broke out as temperatures climbed into triple digits. About 500 homes were threatened, according to Capt. Scott Dettorre of the Ventura County Fire Department, but no evacuations had been ordered. Shifting winds were carrying flames in the opposite direction of the homes late Friday.

One crew member was reported injured, but there was no information available about his condition.

Dettorre said the fire was about 50% contained by late evening, adding that the 150 to 160 firefighters battling the blaze were making "good, steady progress."

Earlier Friday, a truck that went over an embankment on the 118 Freeway sparked a brush fire shortly before 6 a.m. The blaze consumed about five acres before firefighters brought it under control with the help of water-dropping helicopters.

Elsewhere in California, firefighters finally got the upper hand on the Rocky fire, which has burned since July 29 near the Napa Valley wine country. Before officials declared the fire 100% contained Friday evening, it had scorched more than 69,000 acres and destroyed 43 homes and more than 50 outbuildings.

But it was still an uphill battle for control of some other large fires, including the Complex fire in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, which had consumed nearly 33,000 acres and was only 18% contained by Friday night.

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As they braced for possibly record-setting temperatures in Southern California over the weekend, authorities were urging residents to cut back on electricity use, drink plenty of water, keep blinds and curtains closed to help keep out the heat, and to watch out for elderly or disabled neighbors.

"The heat wave will peak today through Sunday," the National Weather Service said Friday, "with an excessive heat warning in effect for the mountains as well as the valleys of Los Angeles and Ventura counties. Triple-digit heat will be common ... with warmest valley locations climbing to 108 degrees."

Expected lower humidity — as low as 10% in some inland areas — and gusting winds as strong as 20 to 30 mph could combine to increase the already high fire risk, forecasters said.

A slight cooling trend is expected to start Monday.

Twitter: @jeanmerl

Twitter: @sarahparvini

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