SAN DIEGO (AP) – Parts of Southern California were ravaged by heavy winds from a tropical storm Friday that brought high humidity, rain and possible flooding to the parched area, as well as the promise of cooler temperatures after a 10-day heatwave that nearly ended. overwhelmed the state’s power grid.
Firefighters had feared that strong winds in excess of 160 mph (160 km/h) could spread the massive Fairview Fire about 75 miles southeast of Los Angeles, but instead, crews made significant progress and saw Monday as a day when they should be completely enclosed. More than 10,000 homes and other structures were still under threat and evacuation orders were still in effect.
Hurricane Kay arrived near Bahia Asuncion in Mexico, in the state of Baja California Sur, on Thursday, but quickly weakened to a tropical storm by the time it reached Southern California. Winds were fierce in places — speeds reached 175 mph at San Diego County’s Cuyamaca peak, the National Weather Service said.
Tropical conditions created a sweltering heat wave that saw temperatures rise above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) in many parts of California this week. Even places like San Diego, known for its temperate climate, baked in the heat.
A steady rain fell in downtown San Diego late Friday morning as Charles Jenkins swept the accumulating puddles off the tarpaulins of his makeshift home.
“The heat was killer, so for now this feels good,” Jenkins said. ‘I just hope the water isn’t too high. But I’ll make it rough. I have pallets that I can put underneath to keep out the rain.”
At about 1:00 p.m. as the rain continued, a Navy-contracted twin-engine plane carrying two civilian pilots slipped off the end of a runway after landing at Naval Air Station North Island in Coronado and parked in a spit of sand. The nose of the plane was damaged, but the pilots were able to take off under their own power and were taken to a hospital for observation, said Kevin Dixon, spokesman for Coronado Naval Base.
While rainfall in Southern California was generally moderate on Friday, there was a chance of isolated thunderstorms and heavy downpours on Saturday. Because flooding was possible, officials in coastal cities placed warning signs in low-lying areas and made sandbags available to the public.
September has already produced one of the hottest and longest heat waves ever recorded in California and some other western states. Nearly 54 million people received heat warnings and advisories across the region this week as temperature records were broken in many areas.
California’s capital, Sacramento, reached a record high of 116 degrees (46.7 C) on Tuesday, breaking a 97-year-old record. Salt Lake City hit its highest temperature ever on Wednesday at 107 degrees (41.6 C).
On Tuesday, as air conditioners buzzed amid the stifling heat, California set a record for power consumption and authorities implemented near-rolling blackouts as grid capacity was at breaking point.
Scientists say climate change has made the West warmer and drier over the past three decades and that the weather will continue to make more extremes and wildfires more frequent and destructive. In the past five years, California has experienced the largest and most devastating fires in state history.
As firefighters made progress against the Fairview Fire, the fast-moving Mosquito Fire in the foothills east of Sacramento doubled in size Friday to at least 46 square miles (119 square kilometers) and threatened 3,600 homes in Placer and El Dorado counties, while it the region up in smoke.
Flames engulfed the American River, burning structures in the mountain hamlet of Volcanoville and moving closer to the towns of Foresthill, which is home to about 1,500 people, and Georgetown, which has a population of 3,000. More than 5,700 people in the area have been evacuated, Placer County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Josh Barnhart said.
David Hance was sleeping on the porch of his mother’s Foresthill mobile home when he woke early Wednesday morning to a glowing red sky and was ordered to evacuate.
“It was pretty damn scary because they say, ‘Oh yeah, it’s getting closer,'” he said. “It was like sunset in the middle of the night.”
Leaving most of his electronic equipment, all his clothes and family photos behind, Hance fled to Auburn, where he found his mother, Linda Hance, who said the biggest stress is wondering, “Is my house still there?”
Tour de Tahoe organizers announced Friday that they would cancel the annual 115-mile bike ride scheduled for Sunday around Lake Tahoe due to heavy smoke from the fire — more than 50 miles away — noting that cycling is a “heavy duty.” cardio activity that doesn’t mix well with terrible air quality.” Last year’s ride was canceled due to smoke from another major fire south of Tahoe.
The cause of the Mosquito Fire remains under investigation. Pacific Gas & Electric said unspecified “electrical activity” occurred close to Tuesday’s report of the fire.
Antczak reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press writers Stefanie Dazio and Christopher Weber in Los Angeles, Noah Berger in Auburn, California, Scott Sonner in Reno, Nevada, and Gillian Flaccus in Portland, Oregon, contributed to this report.