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122 degrees: Palm Springs breaks record — and it could get hotter

Every so often someone walks into the Palm Springs Visitors Center raring to burn through hiking trails like they’re British adventurer and TV personality Bear Grylls.

For those people, Ceej Juarez, who provides information about hiking trails in the Agua Caliente Indian reservation, has to be a voice of reason.  And that is never as important a job as it was on Monday, when a torrid heat wave sent temperatures to 122 degrees in the resort city by early afternoon.

The temperature broke the former record for the date of 118 degrees in 1929, according to the National Weather Service. Other cities that hit new highs for the day included Riverside (113), Indio (120), Escondido (106) and Thermal (119).

“People die out here every year,” Juarez said. “First thing I tell them is that they must carry lots and lots of water. You need at least a quart per mile.”

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Earlier in the morning, she said, a family wanted to drive to Las Vegas and take a scenic route through Joshua Tree National Park and then through the Mojave Desert.

“I told them you don’t want to go that way right now,” Juarez said, what with the few gas stations -- and the infernal heat.

The potent heat wave blistering Southern California triggered a red flag warning for the mountains of Los Angeles and Ventura counties and a plea by public utilities for consumers to save energy.

In the Angeles National Forest above Duarte and Azusa, fresh wildfires broke out with evacuation ordered for some neighborhoods.

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The Reservoir fire scorched at least 600 acres at Highway 39 near Morris Dam in the San Gabriel Mountains, said Andrew Mitchell, spokesman for the Angeles National Forest. Azusa police issued mandatory evacuation orders for residents who live in the community of Mountain Cove. 

In Duarte, firefighters tackled the 500-acre Fish fire as flames moved close to structures. Evacuation orders went out for homes near Encanto Parkway.

The heat wave has already broken records across the Southland, with more poised to fall on Monday.

Burbank was forecast to hit 108 degrees, eclipsing the old record of 106 degrees in 2008. In Santa Barbara, not far from where the Sherpa fire has scorched nearly 8,000 acres in the Santa Ynez Mountains, forecasters predict the heat to reach 98 degrees. The old record was 96 degrees set in 1973, said Kathy Hoxsie, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

It was 100 degrees in Pasadena before 9:30 a.m., the Weather Service said. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power issued a flex alert -- a call to save energy by consumers -- until 9 p.m.

When Bernardo Espinoza, 30, started his day gardening in Woodland Hills at 7 a.m., it was already hot. If it were up to him, he would have started even earlier.

Instead, Espinoza expected to work until about 3 p.m., doing steady gardening work at homes in Calabasas and Thousand Oaks through peak sun and temperatures that were expected to reach 111 degrees.

The exercise area around the Rose Bowl in Pasadena was busy early Monday morning,
The exercise area around the Rose Bowl in Pasadena was busy early Monday morning,
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )
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Southern California heat wave

“You have no choice,” he said. “You can’t ask for the day off – you can only do that if it’s a holiday.” And anyway, he said, “if you don’t work today, next week will be worse -- you’ll have double the work.”

But the expected high temperatures didn’t faze Espinoza, who was smiling even as sweat streamed down his face. “You get used to the heat,” he said. “I’m not worried.”

Having worked in gardening for one year and in construction for 12 years before that, Espinoza knew how to deal with the heat. He wore a baseball cap, sunglasses, long sleeves and long pants and said he was carrying a dozen bottles of water in his truck, which he could fill up at gas stations if needed.

On a day like Monday, when temperatures are expected to be so torrid, the Woodland Hills Urgent Care Center starts running the air conditioning early in the morning, said Boris Vaisman, 40, a family-practice doctor who, together with his mother, Sofia Vaisman, staffs the clinic.

In addition to keeping the temperature low, Vaisman and his staff were focused on keeping their patients well hydrated.

“As soon as they check in, it’s, ‘Hi, how are you, do you need any water?’” he said.

Vaisman didn’t expect to see a huge increase in patients due to the heat. “I mean, we’re in Woodland Hills -- It’s not unusual for summer to be really, really warm.”

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What he did expect was an increase in no-shows.

“People just stay home,” he said. “They don’t want to leave the house.”

While Vaisman expected patients to cancel their appointments, he said his staff had procedures in place to check on vulnerable patients.

“If someone misses an appointment on days when it’s exceptionally hot, we’re gonna call and check in to make sure everything’s OK,” he said. 

In Palm Springs, the air conditioning in some cars strained to keep the interior cool. Alfonso Silva, 34, and his colleague Moises Carrillo, 50, managed to find a patch of shade behind their trucks Monday morning.

“This is my second time here. Last time it was 95 degrees,” said Carrillo. “But with today reaching 120 degrees, honestly, it’s just sinking in.”

Carrillo chuckled as he placed his hands in his pockets. Sweat dripped from his forehead.

“The necessity to pay bills and rent compels me to work today, hot or not,” he added. “Otherwise I’d stay home.”

The men will be spending most of their day on the road, driving 20 miles from Palm Springs to Cabazon to drop off grounded-up asphalt at a recycling site.

“You got some AC, some iced water and maybe a soda later at a gas station, it will be fine,” Carrillo said.

Silva looked at his friend.

“This truck doesn’t have AC.”

Asked who was going to drive it, Silva pointed to himself.

“I’ll have to do what the fishes do when they’re out of the water,” he said, opening his mouth to mimic a fish trying to breathe. “You just have to deal with it. You got to tough it out.”

Silva said one time he was at a job site in La Quinta where it was 122 degrees.

Carrillo said when he woke up Monday morning and drove to pick up his truck at 7 a.m. it was already hot.

A few yards away, Ramon Vela, 48, of Los Angeles and his son, Jesse, pulled into the Palm Springs Visitors Center.

Vela said he and his son arrived Sunday in Palm Springs. They came to the center to find things to do that didn’t require being outdoors too much.

“Typically we’d go hiking but it’s too hot,” he said. “He wants to do stuff but I tell him, no, man, you gotta respect nature.”

He said they have been cranking the AC at their hotel room and swam in the pool to stay cool, but even the pool is not guaranteed to cool you off.

“The pool gets hot later on,” Vela said. “It’s like swimming in hot tea.”

Others actually drove down to Palm Springs precisely to experience a peak heat wave moment. Just M. Love, 33, and his family came from Whittier “to enjoy the miserable heat, go for a swim and do a little shopping.”

Sipping an ice cold drink at a Starbucks, he and his family said they were enjoying the very, very … very dry heat.

“It’s hot as hell,” Love said just before noon. “And it’s not 2 or 3 yet.”

Though temperatures are expected to drop slightly on Tuesday, the humidity is going to climb as an onshore breeze sweeps over the area, said Hoxsie.

“It’ll feel extra miserable,” she quipped.

The heat wave set in over the weekend, when temperature records were broken in several areas across Southern California.

On Sunday, temperatures hit triple digits in several valley and inland area cities, including 106 degrees in Pasadena and Lancaster, sending residents to air-conditioned shops and movie theaters as fire officials kept a wary eye on the forecast, worried that dry, gusty winds would make already-ripe fire conditions more dangerous.

The warnings were well-founded. On Sunday, three firefighters suffered heat exhaustion battling the Sherpa fire -- which required some crews to hike up to three miles into dense vegetation in the Santa Ynez Mountains to get ahead of the flames and set up defenses, said Lee Beyer of the U.S. Forest Service.

Firefighters have shored up defenses along the blaze’s western and northern faces, leaving it to spread mostly to the east, deeper into Los Padres National Forest, Beyer said. Though crews have continued to encounter the infamous warming “sundowner” winds that blast downhill toward the ocean, defenses are set up in most places to prevent the flames from spreading back toward homes. The fire is mostly driven by topography at this point, he said.

The heat on Monday is compounded by gusty winds and low humidity, which creates dangerous red flag conditions that turn the foothills from Ventura and Los Angeles counties to San Bernardino County into kindling.

“We’re still in June. We have a lot of fire season ahead of us and things are only going to continue to get drier,” Beyer said.

Sweltering temperatures across Southern California prompted calls Monday for electricity customers to reduce their energy use to help avoid strain on a system already weakened by the troubled Aliso Canyon natural gas storage plant.

Utility companies urged their residential customers to voluntarily delay washing clothes and dishes until bedtime and to keep their thermostats at 78 degrees or higher. In addition, the power companies asked business customers also to voluntarily suspend unnecessary daytime operations such as production line work until nightfall.

The so-called “flex alert” initiated by the California Independent System Operator, which manages the state’s electric grid, ran from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

“We’re doing everything we can to reduce the load,” Ronald Nichols, president of Southern California Edison. “It’s something that we’re closely monitoring.”

Nichols said there were a small number of outages Monday of about 10,000 to 20,000 of Edison’s customers, but there was no expectation of forced rolling blackouts.

To help manage available power, Edison and other utilities also initiated other energy saving programs Monday, called “demand response.”

Most of the programs that went into effect Monday were voluntary. Business and residential customers who enroll in the programs can earn credits on their bills by agreeing to reduce their electricity usage during periods of high electricity use.

The programs tapped for Monday’s high temperatures were largely voluntary, though customers enrolled in some programs can agree to have service interrupted by the utility when electricity use is high.

“We are certainly watching temperatures,” said Lynsey Paulo, a spokeswoman for Pacific Gas & Electric, which asked its customers to save energy, even the higher temperatures were south of its service area. “We are encouraging our customers in Northern California … to prepare for the heat now.”

This round of high temperatures are expected to be short-lived, but it still was a test of how prepared the utilities are to handle summer demand for electricity.

Part of the concern raised by Cal-ISO is that natural gas supplies used as fuel for many power generators in the Los Angeles area may be tight during this heat event because of limited operations at Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Storage Facility.

The California Public Utilities Commission and other state energy agencies have warned that because of the lack of operations at the Aliso Canyon field, the state’s largest natural gas storage facility, Southern California could face blackouts during as many as 14 days this summer.

In May, the commission gave Edison approval to purchase battery storage for electricity to help avoid strain on the electric system.

Nichols said Edison plans to have the batteries available next summer, though some could come online as early as the end of this year.

For breaking California news, follow @JosephSerna.

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UPDATES:

3:44 p.m. Updated with information about power grid. 

1:30 p.m.: This post has been updated with Palm Springs’ record-breaking temperature.

12:17 p.m.: This post has been updated with additional information.

11:49 a.m.: This post has been updated with comments from Woodland Hills.

11:00 a.m.: This post has been updated with more comments from Palm Springs.

This story was originally posted at 10:19 a.m.


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