SAN DIEGO– Parts of Southern California were whipped by strong winds from a tropical storm on Friday that brought high humidity, rain and possible flooding to the parched region, but also the promise of cooler temperatures after a surge 10-day heat wave that nearly overwhelmed the state’s power grid.
Firefighters had feared powerful winds in excess of 100 mph (161 kph) could spread the massive Fairview Fire burning about 75 miles (121 kilometers) southeast of Los Angeles, but instead firefighters crews have made significant progress and have set Monday as a day when they should have full lockdown. More than 10,000 homes and other structures remained at risk and evacuation orders were still in place.
Hurricane Kay made landfall near Mexico’s Bahia Asuncion in the state of Baja California Sur Thursday, but quickly weakened into a tropical storm by the time it reached southern California. Winds were still fierce in places – speeds reached 109 mph (175 km/h) on San Diego County’s Cuyamaca Peak, the National Weather Service said.
Tropical conditions have worsened a heat wave that has seen temperatures top 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) in many parts of California this week. Even places like San Diego, renowned for its temperate climate, baked in the heat.
Late Friday morning, steady rain pounded downtown San Diego as Charles Jenkins brushed up puddles of water that collected on the tarps of his makeshift home.
“The heat was deadly, so for now it feels good,” Jenkins said. “I just hope the water doesn’t rise too high. But I’m going the rough. I have pallets that I can put under to avoid the rain.
At around 1 p.m., as the rain continued, a Navy contracted twin-engine aircraft carrying two civilian pilots slid off the end of a runway after landing at Naval Air Station North Island in Coronado and parked in a tongue of sand. The plane’s nose was damaged but the pilots were able to walk away on their own and were taken to hospital for observation, Naval Base Coronado spokesman Kevin Dixon said.
Although rainfall was generally moderate in Southern California on Friday, there was a chance of isolated thunderstorms and heavy downpours on Saturday. With flooding possible, officials in coastal towns posted 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 on record in California and some other western states. Nearly 54 million people were subject to heat warnings and advisories across the region this week as temperature records were shattered in many regions.
California’s state capital, Sacramento, hit an all-time high on Tuesday of 116 degrees (46.7C), breaking a 97-year-old record. Salt Lake City tied its record temperature on Wednesday at 107 degrees (41.6C).
On Tuesday, as air conditioners hummed amid the sweltering heat, California set a record for energy consumption and authorities nearly instituted blackouts when power grid capacity was at breaking point.
Scientists say climate change has made the West hotter and drier over the past three decades and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive. Over the past five years, California has experienced the largest and most destructive wildfires in state history.
As firefighters made progress against the Fairview Fire, the fast-moving Mosquito Blaze in the foothills east of Sacramento doubled in size on Friday to at least 46 square miles (119 square kilometers) and threatened 3,600 homes in Placer and El Dorado counties, while covering the area in smoke.
Flames jumped the American River, burning structures in the mountain hamlet of Volcanoville and approaching the towns of Foresthill, home to around 1,500 people, and Georgetown, home to 3,000 people. More than 5,700 people in the area have been evacuated, said Placer County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Josh Barnhart.
David Hance slept on the porch of his mother’s Foresthill mobile home when he awoke to glowing skies early Wednesday morning and was told to evacuate.
“It was actually terrifying, because they’re like, ‘Oh yeah, it’s getting closer,'” he said. “It was like a sunset in the middle of the night.”
Hance left behind most of his electronics, all of his clothes and family photos and fled to Auburn, where he was reunited with his mother, Linda Hance, who said the biggest stress was wondering: “Is my house still there?
Tour de Tahoe organizers announced on Friday that they were canceling Sunday’s annual 115-mile bike ride around Lake Tahoe due to thick smoke from the fire – more than 80 miles away – and noted that the biking is a “heavy cardio activity that doesn’t pair well with poor air quality.” Last year’s ride was canceled due to smoke from another large fire south of Tahoe.
The cause of the Mosquito Fire remained under investigation. Pacific Gas & Electric said unspecified “electrical activity” occurred shortly after 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.