Still hot! Western heat wave takes its toll

The heat wave hammering much of the US West is setting records and taking its toll as air conditioners work overtime. Brush fires are a concern with Fourth of July fireworks for sale.

Julie Jacobson/AP
Subrina Madrid, Sarah Hudak, and Jennifer Shackelford sit in the shallow waters along Boulder Beach at Lake Mead trying to escape the heat in Las Vegas.
Bruce Chambers/The Orange County Register/AP
Matthew Dayton, 6 months, is dropped into the pool by his mother Stephanie Dayton into the arms of swim instructor Nicolette Conrad during a "Mommy and Me" swim class in Brea, Calif.

As expected, the heat wave ranging from southern Arizona west and north to Sacramento, Boise, and Seattle has first responders working overtime, water slides and public swimming pools crowded, and zookeepers hosing down the elephants and feeding frozen trout to the tigers.

The blistering heat appears to have caused at least one death so far: an elderly man living without air-conditioning in Las Vegas, where temperatures were expected to reach 116 degrees F.

At least seven people have been found dead in the last week in Arizona, likely tied to the brutal desert heat. Personnel were added to the border patrol search-and-rescue unit because of the danger to people trying to slip across the Mexican border, officials reported.

Temperatures hit 127 in Death Valley, Calif., Saturday and were expected to reach at least that high again Sunday. (The record there – the highest ever recorded on Earth – is 134 degrees, set in 1913.) At Furnace Creek, in Death Valley National Park, nighttime lows only dip down to the mid-90s.

Overnight temperatures remained high inland from the Pacific in California because cooling ocean breezes hadn’t wafted as far east as usual.

"We have more work than we can handle," Max Ghaly of Cathedral City Air Conditioning and Heating in Palm Springs, Calif., told CNN. "We're running all over the place trying to do what we can."

US Airways canceled 18 flights Saturday when the temperature in Phoenix inched past the 118-degree maximum for take-off.

In northern California, record-breaking temperatures were recorded in Sacramento, where the high was 107 degrees; Marysville reached 109 degrees; and Stockton saw 106 degrees.

Cooling stations were set up to shelter the homeless and elderly people who can't afford to run their air conditioners. In Phoenix, Joe Arpaio, the famously hard-nosed sheriff who runs a tent jail, planned to distribute ice cream and cold towels to inmates this weekend.

Brush fires are a particular concern to firefighters – more so now because Fourth of July fireworks have gone on sale in many places.

Officials said the extreme heat will continue until at least Tuesday.

"It's early in the heat season. Usually our hottest months are August and September. We're not even in July yet, but this is a massive high-pressure system and it's just smothering," Bill Patzert, a climatologist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge, told the Los Angeles Times.

Some saw the heat wave as an opportunity to notch personal records.

Dan Kail was vacationing in Las Vegas from Pittsburgh when he heard that the temperature at Death Valley could approach 130 degrees this weekend. He didn’t hesitate to make a trip to the desert location, which is typically the hottest place on the planet.

“Coming to Death Valley in the summertime has always been on the top of my bucket list,” he said. “When I found out it might set a record I rented a car and drove straight over. If it goes above 130, I will have something to brag about.”

This report includes material from The Associated Press.

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