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Record heat wave bakes California

A heat wave cooked California on Monday, prompting fears of brush fires and utility overloads. Residents took to the water.
People cool off in the surf at Seabright State Beach on a sunny, warm afternoon in Santa Cruz, Calif., on Monday.
People cool off in the surf at Seabright State Beach on a sunny, warm afternoon in Santa Cruz, Calif., on Monday.Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A record-breaking spring heat wave blistered California on Monday, prompting firefighters to keep a close eye on drying brush and forcing officials to monitor electricity use. Residents sought refuge at beaches and in swimming pools.

The weather service reported 99 degrees in downtown Los Angeles, eclipsing the record of 91 set in 1972. Other records included 100 in Santa Maria on the central coast and 88 in San Francisco, which usually averages 65 degrees this time of year.

“I’ve never been to Death Valley, but I can imagine,” said office worker Fred Konieczny, 67, perspiring in dark slacks and a long-sleeved shirt as he walked through downtown Los Angeles.

A high pressure system and lack of onshore breezes contributed to the heat. Forecasters said temperatures in the 80s and 90s would continue through Tuesday, but cooler weather would return by week’s end.

Fire danger was extremely high in Southern California, where a group of wildfires burned about 750,000 acres and destroyed more than 3,500 homes last fall.

A 2,334-acre wildfire that had threatened as many as 400 homes in southern Riverside County was 90 percent contained late Monday after burning more than a day. The blaze destroyed two mobile homes and nine vehicles.

Firefighters expressed concern about the dry conditions — partly due to years of drought — but said they didn’t face strong onshore winds that fan flames.

Meanwhile, state officials prepared for increased demand for electricity. The agency that manages much of the state’s power grid called for a low-level alert late Sunday and asked people to reduce usage of air conditioners, washers and other appliances during the peak hours of 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

People flocked to beaches. Danny Douglas, a lifeguard captain in Los Angeles County’s Manhattan Beach, said it was crowded for a Monday afternoon.

“It’s busy down here. People are in the water cooling off. It’s a lot like summertime,” he said.