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California hiker dies as record heat wave and wildfires scorch state

Temperatures reached 121 degrees in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Woodland Hills.
A helicopter prepares to drop water at a wildfire in Yucaipa, Calif., on Saturday as three fast-spreading wildfires sent people fleeing, one of them trapping campers at a reservoir in Sierra National Forest.
A helicopter prepares to drop water at a wildfire in Yucaipa, Calif., on Saturday as three fast-spreading wildfires sent people fleeing, one of them trapping campers at a reservoir in Sierra National Forest.Ringo H.W. Chiu / AP

Authorities in Los Angeles County shut down trails in the Santa Monica Mountains after a woman died while hiking as a record-setting heatwave and wildfires scorched California.

The woman, whose name wasn't released yet, had been hiking with a friend Saturday afternoon on a trail near the city of Calabasas when she started feeling sick and collapsed, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Juanita Navarro said Sunday.

The cause and manner of death had not been determined, but foul play wasn't suspected, Navarro said. Malibu Search and Rescue, a unit within the sheriff’s department, said it responded to several heat-related rescues Saturday.

The National Weather Service documented a slew of record-setting temperatures across the state Sunday. In Woodland Hills, just north of Calabasas, the mercury reached a sweltering 121 degrees. In San Jose, it was 103 just before 2 p.m., breaking a 1923 record.

As temperatures rose, the operator of the state’s power grid warned of possible rolling blackouts for millions of customers beginning at 3 p.m. — the second time in less than a month that a heatwave has prompted the warnings.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti urged residents to turn off power-sucking appliances, leave thermostats at 78 degrees and shut off extra lights.

“We need every Californian to help conserve energy,” he said. “Please do your part.”

The weather service issued its highest fire alert — a red flag warning — for the mountains of Los Angeles and Ventura counties beginning at 6 p.m. Low humidity, gusty winds and hot temperatures would increase the threat of “extreme fire behavior,” the service said.

Much of Northern California’s interior counties were also under a red flag warning.

The warnings were issued as firefighters continued to fight massive blazes across the state. In the Sierra National Forest, dozens of campers were rescued Saturday after a fire that began the day before jumped a river and trapped them in their campground.

Alvaro Rodarte, who was staying at the Mammoth Pool campground with friends and family, said that they were planning on boating when they saw smoke in the distance on Saturday morning. By the time they returned to their camp site to pack up their gear, flames had spread to within a couple of hundred feet of Mammoth Pool, he said.

They loaded up their cars and tried to escape but were turned back because it was too dangerous to drive, he said. The group remained in a lake for roughly five hours until a helicopter arrived and evacuated him and others to Fresno, he said.

“I’m physically just exhausted,” he said Sunday. “I have no strength left in me.”

The California National Guard, which rescued the campers, tweeted a photo Sunday of dozens of evacuees aboard a Chinook helicopter.

The fire, which was 0 percent contained as of Sunday afternoon, had grown to 45,500 acres.

Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California Los Angeles, said the rapidly spreading blaze was so intense that it had created its own thunderstorms with lightning, wind and no rain. A rare fire tornado was also possible, he said.

Swain said the only thing keeping more cities across the state from topping record-high temperatures was the “dense pall of smoke from explosively growing wildfires.”

“Also,” he tweeted, “I expect CA to set a new record for acres burned in modern era by…Monday.”

According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, more than 1.8 million acres have burned across the state this year.

Two of the largest fires in California history began after what officials called the “lightning siege of 2020,” when nearly 11,000 bolts struck Northern California in three days. As of Sunday, the two fires totaled more than 770,000 acres combined and were each nearly contained.

Scientists have partly linked the state’s increasingly intense wildfire seasons to climate change. A paper co-authored by Swain earlier this year found that higher-than-average temperatures are likely to remain higher for longer, pushing well into fall and possibly extending California's wildfire season to Thanksgiving.