California Heat Wave Raises Fire Threat, Virus Spread Fears

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California withered under a heat wave Friday that brought dangerously high temperatures, increased wildfire danger and fears of coronavirus spread as people flock to beaches and recreation areas.

High pressure building over Western states pushed temperatures into triple digits across the state by midday. Sweltering weather was expected to continue into next week across greater Los Angeles, the Central Valley, Sierra Nevada foothills and parts of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Palm Springs and other desert regions could approach 120 degrees (49C), the National Weather Service predicted while issuing widespread heat watches and warnings.

“Dangerously hot conditions will occur during the afternoon and early evening hours each day,” a weather service warning said.

Los Angeles opened cooling centers, but with limited capacity because of coronavirus social distancing requirements.

The California Independent System Operator, which manages the state’s power grid, issued a statewide Flex Alert for Friday, calling for voluntary electricity conservation from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m., when there’s expected to be higher demand, mainly from the use of air conditioners.

In addition, cloudy remnants of a tropical weather system will reduce solar generating power and lead to tighter energy supplies, operators said.

People were asked to turn off unnecessary lights and avoid using major appliances such as washing machines during those hours.

How Coronavirus Has Grown in Each State — in 1 Chart

This chart shows the cumulative number of cases per state by number of days since the 50th case.

Source: The COVID Tracking Project
Credit: Amy O’Kruk/NBC

The scorching temperatures are a concern for firefighters battling blazes that have destroyed several homes and have erupted near both rural and urban foothill neighborhoods, driving through tinder-dry brush.

In addition to the possibility of heat stroke and other hot-weather illnesses, health officers were concerned that people will pack beaches, lakes and other recreation areas without following mask and social distancing orders — a major concern in a state that has seen more than 600,000 coronavirus cases.

Israel saw a COVID-19 resurgence after a May heat wave inspired school officials to let children remove their masks, Dr. George Rutherford, an epidemiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

“People will want to take off their masks when it’s hot,” Rutherford said. “Don’t do it.”

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