The California Independent System Operator, the state’s electric grid manager, declared a statewide Stage 2 emergency on Tuesday, just a day after avoiding a third day of rolling blackouts.
Steve Berberich, president and CEO of the California ISO, said in a briefing that the demand for power is expected to be beyond the state’s capacity on Tuesday. He stressed major power conservation efforts need to be taken to minimize or even avoid potential disruptions.
The brutal heat is straining the power grid and fueling more than 30 wildfires across the state.
Nearly 42 million people will be under some type of heat warning in California this week, with some warnings lasting through Thursday and Friday, according to CNN meteorologist Michael Guy.
Temperatures have surpassed 100 degrees in parts of the state, with Death Valley reaching a record breaking 130 degrees Fahrenheit over the weekend.
‘Extraordinary unprecedented historic event’
The current combination of extreme heat, thunderstorms and wildfires across parts of California is an “extraordinary unprecedented historic event,” Brian Garcia, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in the San Francisco Bay Area told CNN.
Heatwaves of this magnitude don’t typically last a full week in California, Garcia said, and with thunderstorms that are producing lightning also forecast in the Bay Area, the likelihood of a wildfire being ignited and spread is much higher than usual.
“I’ve been following California’s weather for 15 years and I haven’t seen it in my career,” Garcia said. “There are others in this office who have been here for 20 to 30 years who haven’t seen it in their careers either.”
Garcia said that the record breaking temperatures in California are also intense because the state is in a pressure cooker-like situation where an area of high pressure situated over the southwestern portion of Utah is pushing down on most of the state of California. In other words, the air is pushing down, heating up, and remaining very stationary over the state.
Garcia said August will probably be one of the warmest months on record for California if the current hot temperatures end up outweighing the temperatures from the first half of the month that were fairly pleasant and cool. He added that 2020 may also be one of the hottest years California has seen to date.
“I think when we take a look back at this this year as a whole – in line with everything else that has been going on in the world to make 2020 as crazy as it is – it will probably be one of the warmest years on record for California,” Garcia said. “Although we don’t know those numbers yet… if it continues on that route then yes, we will be able to start to attribute to some degree the stretches that we’ve seen in this year to global climate change.”
At least three cities in the state reported a new record temperature on Monday, a tweet from NWS San Diego said.
Man facing arson charges linked to wildfire
Firefighters are battling more than 30 wildfires, many of them in Northern California, according to Cal Fire.
The largest fire is the Loyalton Fire in Tahoe National Forest in the northern part of the state, which has burned 44,147 acres and is 30% contained, according to the Inciweb incident website. Eleven structures, including five homes, have already been destroyed in the blaze, the website said.
The Apple Fire is the second largest in the state, burning 33,424 acres since it started on July 31. Fire crews have been battling the blaze for weeks, and it is 95% contained, according to InciWeb.
In Los Angeles County, a 36-year-old man has been accused of starting the Ranch 2 Fire, which has burned more than 3,000 acres in the county and prompted mandatory evacuations, prosecutors said.
The man, Osmin Palencia, was charged with arson during a state emergency and arson of a structure or forest, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office said in a statement. If convicted, he faces a possible maximum sentence of 23 years in state prison.
Prosecutors say Palencia started the brush fire on August 13 during an argument.
In Monterey County, the River Fire has threatened at least 1,500 structures, according to Cal Fire. Six have already been destroyed and two have suffered damage in the 3,800 acre blaze that left four firefighters with minor injuries, Cal Fire said.
Smoke from these fires is also a concern for residents as air quality warnings continue in the Southern Joaquin Valley, according to CNN meteorologist Michael Guy. These will not expire until the fires are extinguished.
Fire threatens endangered tortoise and Joshua trees
A fire near the California-Nevada border is threatening the desert tortoise and charring some old growth Joshua trees, said Seneca Smith, a spokeswoman with the US Forest Service.
The Dome Fire in California’s Mojave National Preserve has burned through 44,000 acres. Firefighters are using minimal impact suppression tactics – they aren’t digging deep fire lines and are only using bulldozers on existing roads – to protect the desert tortoise, Smith said.
The desert tortoise is part of the federal endangered species list and is considered “threatened” – one step below “endangered” with only about 100,000 tortoises left.
The fire has already consumed a large swath of Joshua trees, known as the Woodlands. Once burned, the trees “do not recover,” Smith said.
The Dome Fire is burning a remote area on the corridor between Los Angeles and Las Vegas just south of I-15 near the memorable Zzyzzx Road. About 40 structures are threatened by the fire, though most of those are outbuildings. Eight homes have been evacuated, along with some livestock.
CNN’s Sara Moon, Cheri Mossburg, Topher Gauk-Roger and Hollie Silverman contributed to this report.