Californians urged to reduce power as heat wave triggers statewide alert

 latimes.com  6/20/2017 5:45:00 PM   Joseph Serna, Paloma Esquivel, Megan Bernhard
LA 90: Southern California's heat wave will get worse

With excessive heat forecast throughout the state Tuesday, operators of California’s electrical grid issued their first flex alert of the year and urged energy consumers to scale back power consumption over the next two days or risk outages.

Customers should turn off unnecessary lights and major appliances between 2 and 9 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, when energy usage is expected to peak at 47,000 megawatts, the California Independent System Operator said.

The agency serves about 80% of the state’s electricity consumers.

A multi-state heat wave has brought stifling temperatures to such Southern California communities as Lancaster, Palmdale and Big Bear, where temperatures reached 110, 108 and 89 degrees respectively on Monday.

The heat is expected to peak in the high desert areas on Tuesday, although temperatures are likely to fall a degree or two short of all-time records, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Kurt Kaplan.

High temperatures in the San Bernardino Mountains helped to dry out brush and fuel a fast-moving wildfire that spread across an estimated 850 acres northeast of Big Bear Lake on Monday afternoon. Two firefighters suffered heat-related injuries, a U.S. Forest Service spokesman said. The fire was 0% contained Tuesday morning as firefighters traversed the rugged terrain.

Throughout Southern California, those who work outside of air-conditioned buildings braced for the heat.

Just before 9 a.m., in the Beverlywood neighborhood of Los Angeles, a group of construction workers prepared to spend the day replacing fiber-optic Internet cables in the sun. David Johnson, a contractor for AT&T, said the three-person crew's truck was equipped with three five-gallon jugs of water. One of the workers wore a hat with a neck cover for extra protection.

“Hydration starts the day before,” Johnson said. “Weeks like this, when it gets really hot, you drink nothing but water.”

Francis Resendiz, 36, was prepared for the heat when she arrived in Thermal at 5 a.m. Tuesday to sort grapes under a canopy of vines in the Coachella Valley.

She brought sunblock and a hat, a handkerchief to cover her head and neck and another one for her face. She brought a small blue duffel bag filled with electrolyte drinks and water that she had frozen beforehand so it would melt throughout her shift.

Even so, she said with a sigh, the heat on the farm was hard to handle.

At 9 a.m., nearly four hours into her day, the temperature had already reached 102 degrees nearby. It was predicted to rise to 122 degrees later in the day.

As Resendiz weighed plump purple bundles on a scale and placed them in plastic boxes, she said the heat was one thing, but under the grapevine canopies it was humid to boot.

"It starts to feel like you're suffocating," she said. "That's what affects you the most."

As she worked, a forewoman shouted out a reminder to the grape workers on her team: "Tomen agua" she said-- drink water.

A couple of workers heeded her call.

But others were fortunate enough to be shielded from the heat.

At the Woodland Hills Academy, about 150 students taking summer school classes were chilled by the school’s air conditioning.

Ted Yamane, the middle school's principal, said the Los Angeles Unified School District had issued a heat advisory and he didn’t expect students to spend much time outside Tuesday — mainly because there’s no physical education class during summer school.

Still, the campus officials said they were prepared for the heat. Administrators checked air conditioning in every classroom throughout the day, Yamane said.

"It isn't like when I grew up," said Yamane, who brought a large hydro flask water bottle to his office. When he was a student in the district, there was no regular air conditioning--only "big fans," he said. "It was a different time then."

Los Angeles County has also posted a list of cooling centers online.

The scorching weather is part of a system commonly referred to as the Four Corners High, a high-pressure system that settles over the desert Southwest near the Four Corners area — where Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado meet — and spreads smothering heat from Northern California to Nevada and as far east as central Texas.

In the Central Valley, Fresno Humane Animal Services reported that on Sunday they found a truck packed with nearly 1,000 animals including guinea pigs, ducklings, pigeons and parakeets baking in 107-degree heat. More than two dozen of the creatures died, the Associated Press reported.

In Arizona, American Airlines was forced to cancel 20 flights on smaller jets because they aren’t certified to operate at extremely hot temperatures.

In a statement Tuesday morning, the airline said manufacturers’ specifications set the maximum operating temperature for each type of aircraft. For example, Airbus lists a maximum operating temperature of 127 degrees, Boeing 126 degrees and Bombardier CRJ regional aircraft 118 degrees.

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UPDATES:

10:45 a.m.: This article was updated with reporting from Woodland Hills and the Coachella Valley.

9:45 a.m.: This article was updated with comments from outdoor worker David Johnson.

This article was originally published at 8:25 a.m.

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