SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Californians were urged to conserve electricity to prevent mass power shutoffs Wednesday as a heat wave scorched the northern part of the state, prompting warnings that lightning, thunderstorm winds and parched vegetation could ignite wildfires.
The heat wave was most extreme in the state's interior, chiefly the Central Valley, where some locations hit 105 degrees (40 Celsius). The wildfire risk was focused on northern counties.
The California Independent System Operator, which manages the state's power grid, called for voluntary electricity conservation from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., when it said most people return home and switch on air conditioners, turn on lights, and use appliances. Late afternoon through the early evening is the period when the grid is most stressed due to high demand while solar energy production is decreasing.
Officials asked for voluntary power conservation to prevent the power shutoffs seen in previous years.
Pacific Gas & Electric last year turned off power to about 37,000 people in central and northern California as high winds toppled trees, downed power lines and ignited fires that forced people to flee from their homes.
In Sacramento County, officials opened police stations, libraries and other government buildings to people seeking refuge from the triple-digit weather.
Janna Haynes, a spokesperson with Sacramento County's Department of Human Assistance, said separate cooling centers where people can get water, and snacks, and have access to outlets to charge their phones will remain open at least through Friday.
“We’ve activated the cooling centers several times this summer, but this is the worst and longest weather event that we’ve had so far this year,” Haynes said.
She said social workers were going out and offering the most vulnerable homeless people vouchers to motels.
Tony Sainz, who supervises a group of construction workers with the city of Sacramento, said his crew of carpenters, painters, and building maintenance workers try to finish up any outdoor work by 11 a.m. to stay out of the harshest heat. After that, the crew works in their shop, where they keep a freezer stocked with electrolyte freezer pops, Sainz said.
Sainz said he is lucky his house is surrounded by trees and near a river, which helps keep it cool. The family keeps the AC at 75 degrees (24 Celcius), he said.
Warm summers, Sainz said, are part of living in Sacramento and something he has learned to tolerate. So much so, that he said, he planned to go for a run after work Wednesday even though it was 97 degrees (36 Celsius).
“I run with three water bottles in my running vest and a cooling shirt and a hat that keeps the sun off your head. I stay hydrated and have electrolytes with me,” he said.
The heat “is one of those things that's not in my control. You can't fight it,” he added.
On Wednesday, red flag warnings for fire danger were posted for the northern Coast Range, eastern Shasta County and the Mount Lassen area.
The National Weather Service warned of the possibility of “abundant lightning” and erratic gusts from thunderstorms.
“Lightning can create new fire starts and may combine with strong outflow winds to cause a fire to rapidly grow in size and intensity,” the weather service said.