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Heat wave grips Southern California, brush fire threat grows

July 14, 2010 |  6:36 pm

A heat wave that gripped Southern California on Wednesday is expected to last through the weekend, increasing the threat of wildfires and prompting officials to issue heat advisories for inland areas.

The National Weather Service issued an extreme heat watch from Thursday morning through Friday evening for valley areas in Los Angeles and Ventura counties. Temperatures there were expected to exceed 100 degrees.

The soaring temperatures, which were expected to range from 5 to 10 degrees above normal, are the result of a high-pressure ridge building over the Southwest, the weather service said.

On Tuesday, brush fires briefly threatened homes in Walnut and Camarillo and scorched at least 3,000 acres at Camp Pendleton. The onset of warmer weather will continue to dry up grasses and brush on parched Southern California hillsides, fire officials said Wednesday.

"With the increase of heat there's always an increase in fire danger," said Inspector Don Kunitomi of the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

He and other experts noted that additional factors, including wind, humidity and fuel moisture, can cause dry brush to ignite and spread. "That makes it easier for the fire to take off," said Capt. Ron Oatman of the Ventura County Fire Department.

Both county fire agencies attributed aggressive fire attacks and vigilant brush clearance by residents in helping crews beat back the flames in Walnut and Camarillo.

The hot weather prompted Los Angeles County heath officials Wednesday to warn people in Lancaster and the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys about prolonged exposure to the sun.

"When temperatures are high, prolonged sun exposure may cause dehydration, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke," said Jonathan E. Fielding, director of the county Department of Public Health. "Never leave children, elderly people or pets unattended in vehicles, even with the windows 'cracked' or opened."

--Robert J. Lopez

Photo: Beach goers in the water escaping the heat at Santa Monica Beach. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times