A heat wave scorched states out West during the Labor Day weekend, sparking heat warnings for tens of millions of people. As of Tuesday, the ongoing heat is fueling wildfires and threatening California’s electrical grid, with officials urging residents to reduce their power use in order to head off blackouts.
Southern California is under an excessive heat warning through Thursday, and temperatures may reach 111 degrees Fahrenheit (44 Celsius), according to the National Weather Service. The especially hot weather has worsened already dry conditions in the state, igniting the Fairview Fire on Monday that forced hundreds of residents to evacuate Hemet, California. Schools in that area are closed today, due to the fire and in anticipation of power outages and dangerously high temperatures, the district said in an online statement.
Outages are expected in other parts of Southern California. According to energy officials, the electrical load this afternoon could reach more than 51,000 megawatts, the highest demand California has ever seen, as residents struggle to keep their homes cool, ABC News reported.
Last week, the California Independent System Operator, which manages most of the grid, asked residents to reduce their electricity use from about 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. and said households should avoid using larger appliances and charging electric vehicles. The operator also asked Californians to set their thermostats to around 78 degrees Fahrenheit (25.5. Celsius) in the evenings to avoid further straining the state’s grid. And this week, it’s very likely that the grid will experience “rotating outages unless consumers can reduce their energy use even more than they have so far,” the California Independent System Operator said in a release on Monday.
To help residents without access to air conditioning, the city opened cooling centers around Los Angeles, in nursing homes and libraries. Mutual aid organizations, like Water Drop LA, set up stations to hand out free bottled water to vulnerable residents.
Heat waves like this are becoming more frequent and more intense under climate change. Events like this can easily turn deadly, especially for vulnerable people like the elderly, those dealing with illness, and people without easy access to air conditioning. A heat wave that hit the Pacific Northwest last June was declared a mass casualty event, with hundreds of people dying in the U.S. and Canada.