Two customers outside Kahoots Feed & Pet store were discussing an inescapable topic Wednesday in this rural community in northeast San Diego County: the heat, the seemingly unrelenting heat.
Even for a community that is accustomed to warm weather, this summer has been unusually punishing, following with a vengeance the classic Ramona pattern: heat, humidity, rain and flash floods.
That pattern followed July’s downpour, and on Wednesday residents and shoppers were gazing at dark, ominous clouds not far to the east, wondering and worrying about a repeat.
By 3 p.m., rain was pelting Ramona, first drops that covered windshields, then a downward trajectory that ran down the sides of Main Street. It slacked off an hour later but residents were hustling home rather than be caught in the open or driving.
Whether it gets as bad as July, when the county library was forced to serve as an emergency services center, is yet to be seen.
A flash-flood warning is in effect for the mountains, deserts and valleys of San Diego County until 10 p.m. Thursday. A heat advisory, even for normally balmy coastal communities, was to remain until 6 p.m. Thursday.
The intense heat and severe conditions were felt across Southern California as lightning sparked six brush fires in northern Los Angeles County and storms dumped heavy rains in parts of Orange County as well as the mountains and high desert areas.
In Agua Dulce, a mudslide was reported after an intense downpour. Beaches in Huntington Beach and Long Beach were closed when lightning was seen in the area. A man and woman in Santa Ana had to be rescued from a flood control channel after waters swiftly rose, authorities said.
Lightning strikes sparked fires in Saugus, Valencia, Castaic and Canyon Country. The heat helped spark a small brush fire in Malibu, which was quickly brought under control by firefighters.
A man was swept away and killed during a sudden, heavy downpour Tuesday in Forest Falls, the San Bernardino County Fire Department said. His body was found in Mill Creek Wash.
In Ramona (population 20,292), the temperature hit 96. But the humidity made it seem hotter. There is a belief here that there is no heat as bad as a Ramona heat and that even a desert heat is, at least, dry.
“You go home, throw water on your face and hair, and drink ice water,” said Lona Pfeifer, 15. “And you complain, a lot.”
The library is one of the county’s 115 “cool zones” — buildings with air conditioning.
“This is where we come to stay cool until we go home,” said Keaunna Gill, 16, basking in the air conditioning of the library’s teen center. “Our parents have A/C but they don’t turn it on. Too expensive.”
Even the cool center has been hit by the heat. A children’s dance class was canceled. Even though it was scheduled for a room with air conditioning, parents were reluctant to venture into the heat to provide transportation.
“In the afternoon, the children just don’t come out,” said librarian Cecilia Salgado. “Parents just don’t want to get into a hot car, so everybody stays at home.”
The duration of the heat season is among the heat-related conversations.
“How long is this going to last”? Jayelynn Quezada, 16, asked at the teen center. “Usually, it cools down by this time but not this year.”
The Ramona Sentinel newspaper has chronicled the heat.
A headline trumpeted the durability of the cross-country runners from Ramona High: “Bulldog harriers medal in the heat at Vaquero Stampede,” a meet in nearby Lakeside. The temperature reached 100, but the Bulldogs persisted.
Another runner from a rival school was not so lucky. He passed out, hit his head and required care from a paramedic, delaying the meet by 30 minutes, according to the Sentinel.
A letter to the editor chastised people who take dogs on walks in the heat: “Take your shoes off and put your feet onto the pavement and, if you cannot handle the heat, then why would you think your dog could?”
Until the rain hit about 3 p.m., the heat had a baking feel. Dust devils swirled in open fields. The boom of thunder could be heard in the mountains toward Julian. California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection vehicles rumbled down Main Street, getting into position in case of an emergency call.
Could some businesses be helped by the heat?
Chris Fowles, 31, owner/operator of Inkwell Tattoo and Body Piercing, said that customers choose hot days to get a skin illustration — drawn by the air conditioning in his small shop next to Kahoots.
“That’s why I’m here,” said Derek Schonauer, 43, as Fowles applied the phrase “Driving on narrow escapes through my own recklessness” to Schonauer’s chest.
“I don’t have A/C at home,” he said. “I’d rather be here, staying cool, even if I’m in pain. Heat is its own kind of pain.”
Times staff writers Matt Hamilton, Veronica Rocha and Joseph Serna in Los Angeles contributed to this report.