Southern California schools cope with heat from gusty winds

Southern California was slammed with the second day of a heat wave Thursday that raised the risk of wildfires and left many schoolchildren to sweat it out in aging classrooms.

Temperatures were expected to reach 100 degrees in the hottest coastal and valley locations fueled by gusty Santa Ana winds that sweep hot air across the usually breezy coast, according to the National Weather Service. Residents were warned of the risk of heat-related illnesses and urged to stay out of the midday sun.

While many newer schools have air conditioning, those that don't cranked up fans and rotated teachers through air conditioned portable units to keep students cool. School officials sent messages home urging parents to dress children in loose, lightweight clothing and bring water bottles to stay hydrated.

At Fryberger Elementary School in the Orange County city of Westminster, the second- and third-graders in Stacy Georgetti's classroom lined up for feedback on a writing assignment as enormous ceiling fans moved air overhead. While the classroom wasn't too warm early Thursday, after a few days of scorching temperatures it can become unbearable, Georgetti said.

"When the bricks hold that heat, it's literally like a brick oven," she said.

The heat wave comes as school districts in Westminster, Garden Grove, Long Beach and other cities have bond measures on the November ballot to upgrade aging campuses, including installing air conditioning.

Chris Eftychiou, a spokesman for the Long Beach Unified district, said only 40 percent of the district's 84 schools have air conditioning, but officials hope the bond measure will change that situation. Students who have to take tests in sweltering classrooms are at a disadvantage compared with those in cooler environments up the road, he said.

The hotter-than-usual conditions also posed a risk of extreme fire danger in already dry Southern California. Red flag conditions from heat and gusty winds coupled with low humidity and tinder-dry brush were projected to continue through Thursday night from coastal counties northwest of Los Angeles down to the Mexico border.

An expanding high-pressure ridge was expected to push temperatures 15 percent to 20 percent above normal in some areas before the heat wave begins to ease slightly on Friday, according to forecasters.

Already this year, California wildfires have destroyed dozens of homes while burning through drought-parched mountains and ranchlands.

The Los Angeles County Fire Department planned to place more than a dozen extra fire engines and their crews in brushy, hilly areas west and north of Los Angeles to rapidly respond if wildfires erupt. Hot winds fanned several small brush fires Wednesday in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, but water-dropping aircraft and ground crews contained them without damage to any homes.

"Even though we did have some recent rain, it's still very dry out there ... and with the Santa Ana winds, if something catches, the potential for it to spread is that much greater," Inspector Joey Marron said.

Santa Ana winds are spawned by cold air descending on the vast interior area of the West known as the Great Basin. Air flowing from that region of high pressure spills through mountain ranges and down into the metropolitan regions of Southern California.

The winds push back the normal moist and cooling influence of the Pacific Ocean and gain warmth from compression and speed, similar to the way a languid river turns into rapids at a narrows.

The northeast winds have been linked to the spread of some of the region's most destructive wildfires.


AP reporters Robert Jablon and John Antczak contributed to this report from Los Angeles.