updated 6/19/2008 3:23:34 PM ET 2008-06-19T19:23:34

Southern California roasted Thursday in a record-breaking, end-of-spring heat wave that sent temperatures soaring past 100 degrees in many areas, posing hazards for anyone who ventured outside.

Temperatures were expected to climb to new highs Thursday and Friday as a strong high-pressure system cooked the air from the central coast south to Los Angeles and San Diego, the National Weather Service said.

Forecasters warned people to take precautions ahead of a very hot afternoon that could quickly kill children or animals left in cars, even if the windows are cracked open. The Van Nuys area of Los Angeles hit 100 Fahrenheit at midmorning.

The region began to warm at the start of the week and authorities in San Bernardino County linked the heat to the death of 77-year-old Joyce Sanders on Monday near the California-Arizona state line south of Lake Havasu.

The Arizona woman appeared to have left her car in search of her 89-year-old husband, Virgil, on a day when temperatures reached 116 degrees in the Colorado River region. Investigators believe the woman died after falling on a hillside; the pair were found by a passer-by who stopped after seeing their empty car on the road.

The hot air and dry brush also brought heightened wildfire risks throughout the region.

Firefighters and air crews Thursday battled a 50-acre brush fire after a car ran off the road and burst into flames 70 miles east of San Diego. A man believed to have been driving alone was killed, according to the California Highway Patrol, which was investigating the accident.

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