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Forecasters offer little hope as West sizzles

Oppressive temperatures eased a bit in some parts of the West. Forecasters reported little relief in the days ahead, saying the weather system that brought the high temperatures could last well into next week.
As the temperature reaches 108 degrees F
As the temperature reaches 108 degrees Fahrenheit before noon Friday, worker Jose Salgado stops for a water break while installing an irrigation system for a shopping mall in Apple Valley, Calif., 90 miles northeast of Los Angeles.Robyn Beck / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: The Associated Press

If a record-breaking heat wave doesn’t lift soon, cattle rancher Sharon McDonald may see her hay crop turn to dust.

Oppressive temperatures eased a bit in some parts of the West, but McDonald’s central Montana ranch baked under triple-digit heat. Forecasters reported little relief in the days ahead, saying the weather system that brought the high temperatures could last well into next week.

In Montana, where cattle outnumber residents by more than 2 to 1, livestock and people sought shade and drought-weary farmers watched for damage to grain.

“We are trying to get our hay up before it disintegrates,” said McDonald, a rancher near Melville. “It just gets crispy and just falls apart.”

Warnings of excessive heat were posted Friday for much of Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Oregon and Washington state.

Air conditioners — and even swamp coolers — were predictably hot sellers at the hardware store.

“I’m telling you, it has been nuts,” said Dennis VanDyke, a manager at Power Townsend in Helena. “The only thing I am getting calls for is air conditioners.”

VanDyke said some people prefer swamp coolers, which use a fan and the condensation of water to cool the air, over the more power-hungry air conditioning units.

“They are being bought faster than we can put them on the shelves,” he said.

Records set
In Montana, temperatures above 100 are usually not seen until August. The normal July high in Helena is 83 degrees — not the 105 expected Friday.

By midday, records were already set or tied in the Montana cities of Cut Bank, Great Falls, Havre, and Bozeman.

The Montana Department of Transportation said it was putting maintenance crews to work early in the morning so they could finish by midday.

In Boise, where it was headed well above 100 degrees Friday, some found it was too hot to play at a public water fountain.

“We’ll probably leave soon. Two or three o’clock is about my limit before I want to get in some air conditioning,” mother Monica Player said as children ran through jets of water.

Temperatures were expected to ease slightly in Southern California. Phoenix saw a modest drop, a relatively cooler 111 degrees compared to 115 Thursday. With the approach of Arizona’s summer rainy season, humidity levels have started climbing along with power demand.

Heat remained an issue along the border. The bodies of six suspected illegal immigrants have been found since Monday in southern Arizona deserts, all likely victims of heat illness while trying to walk into the U.S. from Mexico. The toll, while high, is not unusual during hot spells in the region.

'A hot start'
In central Oregon, population growth and a burgeoning demand for air conditioning meant a rise in electricity demand. The Bonneville Power Administration said it was worried fires could damage transmission lines and cause outages.

Stacy Coletta, Lauren Murray
Stacy Coletta, right, of New Bern, N.C., pours water on her body as she carries a 20-pack of beer for a pool party with her friend Lauren Murray, also of New Bern, N.C., in Las Vegas, Thursday, July 5, 2007. A heat wave sizzling across the West showed little sign of letting up Thursday, with Las Vegas forecast to tie a record high and even northern Idaho expected to top 100 degrees. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)Jae C. Hong / AP

Officials said the fire season could turn fearsome following the dry heat.

“It’s an early start and a hot start,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Chris Velver in Great Falls.

The National Forest Service reported at least 16 fires over 500 acres in size burning throughout the West, including three new ones that sparked Thursday.

The agency said fire danger was most extreme in Arizona, California, Oregon and Utah — although a “red flag” warning was posted for much of the West.

'A good long while'
Velver said temperatures in Montana could start to fall a bit by Saturday. In eastern Oregon, which set 15 record highs on Thursday, temperatures were expected to fall off to between 94 and 100 degrees.

But the heat will hover over most of the far West through at least the end of next week, said Kelly Redmond, a regional climatologist for the National Weather Service. He said it could migrate further inland and cover more of the West, including Colorado, as the week goes on.

“It looks like it is going to stay place for a good long while,” he said.