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California Prepares For Scorching, Crowded Labor Day Weekend

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RS2 Photography
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Flickr/Creative Commons
Huge Summer Storm Cloud Over The Sierra Nevada on September 3

California is sweltering under a dangerous Labor Day weekend heat wave that was expected to spread triple-digit temperatures over much of the state while throngs of people might spread the coronavirus by packing beaches and mountains for relief.

Officials urged people to conserve electricity to ease strain on the state’s power grid and to follow social distancing and mask requirements when they hit recreational areas.

Los Angeles County lifeguards were bracing for large crowds along the 72 miles of coastline they patrol.

“My inkling is we will have a lot of people because you can’t really travel, and the next best thing to a Hawaiian beach vacation is an LA beach staycation,” lifeguard spokesman Pono Barnes said.

Because of the pandemic, L.A. County beaches were closed during the Fourth of July weekend. But other counties kept their shores open. Holiday gatherings were blamed, in part, for COVID-19 spikes in some counties.

Health authorities warned that beaches could be closed if they become too crowded.

The rush also was on in the popular San Bernardino National Forest east of Los Angeles.

“I got a note that most of the campgrounds in the San Bernardino mountain range are already full, and I expect them to be completely full within the hour,” forest spokesman Zach Behrens said at mid-morning Friday.

Behrens said rangers will be out in force on “marshmallow patrols” — keeping an especially close watch for campfires and barbecues outside of designated sites that pose a potential risk of setting a wildfire. They also were worried that the surge of people could overwhelm mountain roads.

The National Weather Service predicted “brutally hot” temperatures through Monday as a high pressure system perches over the Western United States.

Downtown Los Angeles was forecast to reach 107 degrees on Saturday and 108 on Sunday. Napa in the wine country could reach 113 degrees, and Death Valley could broil at about 125 degrees.

“It’s as hot as it ever gets, it’s a holiday weekend, lots of events and businesses have moved outdoors because of COVID-19,” Ryan Kittell, a National Weather Service meteorologist, told the Long Beach Press-Telegram. “There are just so many things that make this a dangerous situation.”

The California Independent System Operator, which runs the state power grid, issued a “Flex Alert” for 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday through Monday, asking people to conserve power by not using appliances and keeping air conditioners at 78 degrees or above.

Operators didn’t expect a repeat of the rolling blackouts that took place during a mid-August heat wave. But they warned that the system could be strained by unforeseen problems, such as a fire that disrupts a power line.

If blackouts do occur, Mark Woodward, 60, said he would leave home with his wife, two children and three dogs. He lives in Anaheim Hills in Orange County, where the high could top 110 degrees.

“We have water in the car, and we’ll probably just drive around,” Woodward told the Press-Telegram. “At least we’ll have the air conditioning with the drive.”

Tourists were snatching up rooms at San Diego County coastal hotels, which saw their business plummet because of COVID-19.

Elvin Lai said his Ocean Park Inn in Pacific Beach is pretty much booked with premium rates, and other hotels are checking to see if he can handle their overflow.

“I think people are just saying, I’ve got to get out. I don’t care how long the drive is, let’s just go,” Lai told KGTV-TV.

Others may seek to beat the heat by hitting shopping malls, which were allowed to reopen this week in seven San Francisco Bay Area counties that have met conditions for easing coronavirus business restrictions.

Cities and counties around the state opened cooling centers in public buildings for those without air conditioning. Los Angeles County was providing close to 50 centers — the largest site activation in memory — in libraries, community centers and even a museum in the L.A. suburb of Gardena.

The homeless population wasn’t forgotten. Rev. Andy Bales, president and CEO of Union Rescue Mission in downtown Los Angeles, said he told staff to hand out “the coldest of cold water bottles” to those coming by for to-go lunches over the weekend.

“And I said if anyone comes to the door overheated and in peril, welcome them in,” he said. “We do have an air-conditioned chapel.”

Volunteers with the CHAM Deliverance Ministry in San Jose planned to deliver bottled water and sports drinks to homeless people in Silicon Valley.

“When it’s 105 degrees and you’re living in a creek bed in a tent, it’s a lot of health issues out there. It’s a formula for disaster,” pastor and founder Scott Wagers said.

The heat, coupled with a forecast of possible dry, gusty winds, made for dangerous weekend fire weather, at a time when nearly 13,000 firefighters already are battling to contain nearly two dozen major fires around California.

Crews working in blistering temperatures will try to avoid heat exhaustion by keeping rested and hydrated and getting as much work done as possible “before the heat of the day,” said Lynne Tolmachoff, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

“We see way more heat injuries ... than we do people actually getting burned,” she said.