Blasting heat keeps hold on Western states
(Reuters) - A heat wave scorching the Western United States fueled lightning-sparked fires in several states and pushed temperatures well above normal on Monday in typically cooler regions such as Seattle and parts of the Rocky Mountains.
In Arizona, the weather cooled off slightly - to 111 degrees (44 C) on Monday from 115 (46 C) the day before. But a wildfire that killed 19 firefighters on Sunday raged unchecked, engulfing 8,400 acres of tinder-dry chaparral and grasslands.
In Boise, Idaho, where a ridge of high pressure air pushed thermometers as high as 107 degrees F (41 C), grazing cattle clustered together under trees for shade, and teenagers sought solace in mountain streams.
"People are sweating, about to pass out, but they're still walking around," said Jordan Edwards, a college student who was making money selling bottled water to tourists in Las Vegas, where an elderly man died over the weekend in a house that had no air conditioning.
The heat topped 110 degrees (43 C) in the desert city on Monday, prompting 15 calls to the city's emergency system for heat-related issues, and sending four people to the hospital, said Timothy Szymanski, public information officer at Las Vegas Fire and Rescue.
Pam Armstrong and her family planned to visit several places along the famed Las Vegas strip while visiting from England, but they made sure to walk indoors through cooled casinos, venturing outside only to dash from one building to the next.
"We don't get anything like this at home," said Armstrong, who was in Las Vegas with her husband and children to visit family.
Matt Solum, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said Monday marked the midpoint of the heat wave, which he added would begin to dissipate over the next few days.
"We're about in the middle of it right now," Solum said. "It started late last week and will continue through the Fourth of July."
Solum said that lightning had ignited fires in several states, including the one in Arizona.
"Given how dry it's been, it hasn't taken a lot. Any kind of lightning that's out there, we've needed to keep an eye on," he said.
MELTING TENNIS SHOES
There was an excessive heat warning for Seattle, where the temperature on Monday reached 90 F (32 C), about 16 degrees (9 C) above normal for the Pacific Northwest city.
California's Death Valley National Park drew hundreds of heat-seeking tourists as temperatures soared to 129 degrees (54 C) over the weekend, said public information officer Cheryl Chipman.
By Monday at about 2 p.m., Chipman said, it was 125 degrees (52 C) - and the temperature was still climbing.
Next week marks the 100th anniversary of the day that Death Valley experienced the hottest temperature - 134 F (57 C) - ever recorded on Earth, Chipman said. She said about 100 people were expected to attend a conference at Death Valley National Park marking the centennial.
One attendee came early, Chipman said, just in case the record was broken again this week. It gets so hot at the park, she said, that buildings have backup generators just to make sure the air conditioning can keep going during a power outage.
When she started working there, Chipman left a pair of tennis shoes in her car - and they melted.
California's power grid operator on Monday issued a rare plea for customers in the north of the state to conserve energy over the next few days.
The California Independent System Operator, which operates the grid in most of California and parts of Nevada, said it was anticipating that a spike in air-conditioner usage would add to typical demand.
(Reporting by Alexia Shurmur in Las Vegas, Laura Zuckerman in Idaho, Sharon Bernstein in Los Angeles, David Schwartz in Phoenix, Laila Kearney in San Francisco, Ellen Wulfhorst in New York.; Writing by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Peter Cooney)
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