Southern California welcomed cooler temperatures and spotty rain Saturday as a tropical storm veered off the Pacific Coast and faded, helping put an end to a blistering heat wave that nearly overwhelmed the state’s electrical grid.

Thunderstorms were forecast for the Los Angeles region Saturday that could linger in mountainous areas on Sunday.

But after Hurricane Kay made landfall in Mexico this week it quickly was downgraded to a tropical storm and weakened further until it largely disappeared, said John Dumas, a meteorologist for the U.S. National Weather Service in Oxnard, Calif., adding the scattered rain falling in the region is leftover moisture from a has-been storm.

“Is the worst of it over? Yes,” Dumas said.

In Southern California, cooler temperatures and moisture brought respite to firefighters battling the massive Fairview Fire about 121 kilometres southeast of Los Angeles after sweltering heat pushed temperatures past 38 C in many locations this week.

The blaze has threatened more than 10,000 homes and other structures but firefighters have made progress and said they expected full containment on Monday.

Thousands of homes threatened in North

Fire officials warned, however, that Northern California communities are still at risk for a heat wave and wildfire conditions and there is the potential for lightning Sunday in the Northern Sierra. In the foothills east of Sacramento, the Mosquito Fire spread to at least 134 square kilometres Saturday, threatening 3,600 homes in Placer and El Dorado counties and blanketing the region in smoke.

“We’re not seeing a corresponding drop in fire activity at this point,” said Cal Fire Battalion Chief Issac Sanchez.

Firefighters said Saturday they’d so far been unable to corral any part of the Mosquito Fire, which has burned near the town of Foresthill, home to about 1,500 people. David Hance was sleeping on the porch of his mother’s Foresthill mobile home when he woke up to a glowing red sky early Wednesday and was ordered to evacuate.

“It was actually fricking terrifying, cause they say, `Oh, yeah, it’s coming closer,”‘ he said. “It was like sunset in the middle of the night.”

The fire has covered a large portion of the region with smoke and California health officials urged people in affected areas to stay indoors where possible. 

The Mosquito Fire’s cause remained under investigation. Pacific Gas & Electric said unspecified “electrical activity” occurred close in time to the report of the fire on Tuesday.

People stand in front of a row of houses as a bulldozer pushes sand past piles of sand.
A police officer watches as a heavy equipment reinforces sand berms as waves and high tide from a tropical storm in Long Beach, Calif., on Saturday. (Ringo H.W. Chiu/The Associated Press)

Heat wave to end, but flood watch in place

The U.S. National Weather Service forecast an end to the grueling heat wave in the Los Angeles area Saturday. A flood watch remained in effect in mountainous areas previously charred by wildfires through the end of the day, and there was the potential for some coastal flooding due to high surf, Dumas said.

In Southern California, officials in coastal cities posted warning signs and made sandbags available to residents, fearing flooding. Minor flooding was reported in a beach parking lot and some local roads in parched desert communities around Palm Springs.

A man in walks past flames and burning trees.
A firefighter uses a drip torch to light backfires while fighting the Mosquito Fire at Volcanoville, Calif., on Friday. (Fred Greaves/Reuters)

Historic heat wave

September already has produced one of the hottest and longest heat waves on record for California and some other Western states. Nearly 54 million people were under heat warnings and advisories across the region this week as temperature records were shattered in many areas.

Scientists say climate change has made the West warmer and drier over the last three decades and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive. In the last five years, California has experienced the largest and most destructive fires in state history.

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