Los Angeles area records high temperatures, as wildfire in northern Santa Barbara County continues to burn out of control

on Jul9

Record-high temperatures that swept through Southern California Saturday hampered firefighters’ efforts to contain two fast-moving wildfires that continued to rage across Santa Barbara County.

The Alamo fire, near Highway 166 in northern Santa Barbara County, had grown to 19,000 acres near the border of San Luis Obispo County, while a vegetation fire near Lake Cachuma about 50 miles south scorched 3,200 acres, officials said.

No structures were reported burned, but at least 200 people have been evacuated from a remote area east of Santa Maria.

Water-dropping helicopters and retardant-dropping air tankers aided some 1,000 firefighters from across the state who were scrambling to contain the Alamo fire. Columns of smoke could be seen from miles away as the fire outraced efforts to contain it, at one point growing by more than 3,000 acres over a four-hour period Friday.

“Low humidity, high heat and the winds are right — and there’s just a lot of stuff to burn,” said Santa Barbara County spokeswoman Gina DePinto. She said firefighters’ main focus Saturday was to secure the south and east sides of the blaze. If winds from the northeast shift toward the northwest, as expected, homes could burn, she said.

If the Alamo fire crosses Tepusquet Canyon, it could push further east into an area of the Los Padres National Forest that burned in 2009, which might help slow the fire because the brush and the trees are relatively young, officials said.

But between the high temperatures and changing winds, Cal Fire spokesman Chris Elms said the fire fight will be tough regardless of the fuel.

“It’s off to the races,” Elms said of the fire’s growth.

Temperatures in the fire area were expected to reach up to 100 degrees Saturday, with winds expected to gust up to 35 mph Saturday night, said National Weather Service meteorologist Todd Hall.

The fire near Lake Cachuma, called the Whittier Fire, was burning on both sides of Highway 154 and initially left some 80 campers trapped at the Circle V Ranch Camp. But U.S. Forest Service firefighters reached the group, which was sheltering in place, said Capt. Dave Zaniboni of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.

The fire, which started about 2 p.m. Saturday, lies in an area filled with oaks, Chamise brush, Manzanita shrubs and ceanothus plants that hasn’t burned since 1955, said Gary Helming, the battalion chief for the U.S. Forest Service in the Los Padres National Forest.

“The brush is tall and thick,” he said. “We have very active burn conditions. We are seeing rapid and large growth.”

Further south, downtown Los Angeles hit a record high of 98 degrees Saturday, beating out the 131-year-old record of 95 degrees set in 1886, according to the National Weather Service.

Record-high temperatures were also recorded in Long Beach, 96 degrees, and Burbank, 105, while Palmdale tied its record of 110. Woodland Hills also reported a temperature of 110.

The San Fernando Valley was especially hard hit by triple-digit temperatures. By 3 p.m., the mercury registered 107 degrees at Lake Balboa, near Encino.

The heat, humidity and beating sun gave parkgoers plenty to complain about.

“Man, it’s brutal out here,” said a shirtless man carrying a cooler back to his truck.

“Ay, que caliente está,” said a mother, wiping sweat from her brow as she left a bathroom with her children in tow. “It’s so hot.”

People sat on blankets or chairs under the shade of trees or canopies. Rental paddle boats floated in the dock, unused. Only ducks and geese swam around, but even they mostly cooled off then went in search of shade.

Barbecues and children’s parties were scattered around the lake, with spreads of food laid out on picnic tables. Blown-up bounce houses, their motors running, had no children inside.

Children splashed around wearing T-shirts and shorts in a narrow channel of water, an offshoot of the lake. A few entrepreneurs took advantage of the day to sell cold drinks and ice cream.

Dale Barrientos and his fiancée, Silva Mesrobian​​​​​​​, sold cold drinks and chips out of foam coolers under a shady tree near the paddleboat dock.

Barrientos said they’ve been coming to the lake to make extra money every weekend for about a month. He said business is normally decent, with boat riders and people walking the paved path, but Friday and Saturday were especially slow.

“This is severe weather for people, kids and animals,” he said.

On Friday, Barrientos said they sold just enough to cover the cost of the ice they bought. Saturday wasn’t looking much better.

“Today at least there’s parties,” he said. “It actually looks like there’s human life.”

After half an hour, they finally got a customer: the lifeguard.

Meanwhile, an explosion Saturday at a Los Angeles Department of Water and Power plant in the San Fernando Valley caused a major fire and knocked out electricity to thousands of area residents.

A large crowd gathered to watch as dozens of firefighters battled the blaze at the plant in 8900 Parthenia Street in Northridge. Parthenia was closed in both directions between Yolanda and Vanalden avenues, according to the fire department.

The cause of the blast, which occurred just before 7 p.m., was unclear, and the DWP released a statement on Twitter saying the entire plant was offline.

“Initial reports of fire affecting a major part of Receiving Station involving 230 Kilovolt equipment. All power cut off to station for safety,” the DWP said.

The agency said the plant “carries high voltage electricity and distributes it at lower voltages to customers in the surrounding area.” It was not immediately clear if the fire was weather-related.

Temperatures in Los Angeles should begin cooling on Sunday by as much as ​​​​​​​5 to 10 degrees in some areas, with the trend continuing over the next few days, said Hall, the meteorologist. The coast is expected to cool to the mid-70s and downtown to the mid-80s during the same period, he said.

javier.panzar@latimes.com

andrea.castillo@latimes.com

christopher.goffard@latimes.com



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