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Heat wave breaks records as many seek relief at beaches

July 17, 2010 |  8:41 am

It's hot, humid and smoky

Big crowds are expected to continue showing up at local beaches on Saturday as people seek to cool off and beat a fourth straight day of excessive heat in Southern California.

Triple-digit temperatures are expected across the region -- particularly in valley and inland areas -- but the coast is expected to stay in the 80s. The crowds are also expected to be large at the Orange County Fair in Costa Mesa, which opened Friday.

Officials are urging the public to drink plenty of water and to refrain from leaving children, pets or the elderly in cars. They also encouraged people to seek air-conditioned shelters in public libraries, senior centers and recreational facilities.

The Los Angeles Fire Department said it had an 11% increase in calls Friday but said it was aware of no heat-related deaths in the city of L.A.

How hot was it Friday? Westwood set an all-time record for the day at 90 degrees; Long Beach tied a record at 95.

In the San Fernando Valley, where temperatures hit 104, selected centers will remain open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday and from noon to 9 p.m. on Sunday. The locations include recreational and senior centers in Canoga Park, North Hollywood, Panorama City, Sunland, Sylmar, Sherman Oaks and Northridge.

"Because of the dangerously warm temperatures, people should be cautious to drink liquids and check on their neighbors," said Bonnie Bartling of the National Weather Service.

Temperatures are expected to begin dropping Sunday and return to normal by Wednesday as the high-pressure system causing the heat wave leaves the area, Bartling said.

State officials are investigating the possible heat-related death Wednesday of a Central Valley farmworker. The state's Division of Occupational Safety and Health said the 54-year-old man collapsed in a vineyard in Arvin, where temperatures reached into the high 90s, as he was reportedly helping load heavy boxes of grapes onto trucks.

He was taken to Kern Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead around 4:30 p.m. He was the fifth worker to die this summer from potentially heat-related causes, according to Cal-OSHA.

Meanwhile, residents in the tiny desert community of Sage in Riverside County who had been evacuated were able to return to their homes after a brush fire that had burned 80 acres was fully contained.

Firefighters continued to battle a larger fire near Lake Skinner that was only 30% contained Friday evening. The Cactus fire blackened 647 acres and firefighters were using air tankers and helicopters to slow the spreading flames. An evacuation center opened at Hemet High School.

Another wildfire in a sparsely populated area east of Murrieta in the southwest corner of the county burned 503 acres and was 60% contained by Friday evening, according to the Riverside County Fire Department. Nearly 230 firefighters and three water-dropping helicopters were called in to battle that blaze, called the Skinner fire.

Chatsworth recorded Southern California's highest daily temperature Friday, 104. There, Caitlin Chapman, a server at a Baskin-Robbins ice cream store on Devonshire Street, said the heat wave had doubled the number of customers Friday and that refreshing Rainbow Sherbet and Wild and Reckless — another fruit sherbet — were the day's flavors of choice.

A nearby hardware store reported runs on air conditioners, fans, patio misters and shade cloths for plants sensitive to heat.

"We've sold more of this stuff in the last few days than we have in the last month," said a store employee, who declined to give his name. "Pretty soon we're going to get low energy surges in the valley."

So far, however, the Department of Water and Power is reporting no unusual demand for electricity. To conserve energy, officials advised the public to adjust thermostats to 78 degrees, avoid cooking and using appliances during peak heat hours, turn off lights and ventilate homes by opening windows at night.

Temperatures reached 95 in downtown Los Angeles, 103 in Pomona, 103 in Lancaster and 96 in Anaheim. Along the coast, Malibu reported 66 and Redondo Beach, 75. In Ventura County, temperatures ranged from 76 in Ventura to 103 in Ojai.

-- Teresa Watanabe

Photo credit: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times