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Heat, fires create untenable air quality

by Steven Felschundneff | steven@claremont-courier.com

Weather forecasters warned that an unusually extreme heat wave was headed our way—and they were certainly correct. With soaring temperatures and out of control forest fires, it was an intense and sometimes scary weekend in southern California.

On Saturday just before 1:30 p.m. the National Weather Service station at Pierce College in Woodland Hills recorded a blazing 121 degrees, which was the highest temperature ever observed at an official recording station in Los Angeles County or in the “LA County warning area” which includes Ventura, San Luis Obispo Santa Barbara counties.

“The combination of strong high pressure aloft and a weak offshore flow conspired to produce one of the hottest days since official weather records began across much of southwestern California,” the National Weather Service Forecast Office announced in a statement on Sunday.

Locally, records were set in Ontario at 118 and Chino at 120, according to AccuWeather. There was no official record for Claremont but one household thermometer in the north part of town recorded temperatures similar to those of our neighboring cities. The ravages of the heat wave could bee seen throughout Claremont on Tuesday, with plants left brown and wilted from two days of extreme heat. 

The city of Claremont had a cooling station open at the Hughes Center on Saturday and Sunday, however, only one person took advantage of the free AC. The library was also open as a cooling center. There were no heat-related emergencies according to Claremont police.

Mid-afternoon Sunday the Bobcat Fire broke out near the Cogswell Dam and West Fork Day Use area of the Angles National Forest. As of noon on Tuesday the fire had spread to 8,553 acres and was currently burning in the Hills above Duarte and Monrovia with zero percent containment. The U.S. Forest Service estimates the fire will not be fully contained until Oct. 15.

Many Claremont residents received an evacuation warning about the Bobcat Fire on their smart phones Monday evening. Claremont’s Public Information Officer Bevin Handel contacted officials with the US Forest Service regarding evacuation orders and was told that the fire was not headed east toward Claremont and that the only communities actually ordered to evacuate were in north Monrovia.

Even though the fire posed no immediate threat to Claremont, it did produce a cloud of smoke that hung over the city Sunday afternoon and all of Monday, creating an eerie yellow cast to the filtered sunlight, and making the heat seem much more apocalyptic. The thick layer of smoke directly to the west created deep blood red sunsets that were shared widely on social media.

Tuesday morning Clarmonters woke up to a surreal scene with every flat surface—including cars, outdoor tables and walkways—covered with a layer of white ash.

Because of the Bobcat Fire, along with the El Dorado fire in near Yucaipa, the South Coast Air Quality Management District issued an unhealthy air quality warning for most of southern California including the San Gabriel and Pomona valleys.

The Claremont Hills Wilderness Park was closed all weekend due of the heat, and the city elected to extend the closure through Thursday because of red flag warnings including Santa Ana winds Tuesday and Wednesday, according to Ms. Handel.

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