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Bizarre wrinkle in heat wave produces startling high temperatures along San Diego County coast

San Diego County’s coastal cities experienced extraordinarily high early morning temperatures Sunday when onshore winds unexpectedly and oddly prevented heat from inland areas from flowing out to sea.

The National Weather Service attributed the phenomenon to the nearly week-old heat wave, which will deepen on Monday — Labor Day.

The projected jump led the primary operator of the state’s power grid to ask consumers to curtail their use of electricity on Monday for a sixth straight day to help avoid possible outages.

The record-setting heat wave has made the ground warmer than normal. Before dawn Sunday, weak winds started to carry some of that heat toward the ocean. The weather service says that counterwinds off the ocean, out of the south, popped up and basically trapped the air at the coast.

By about 9 a.m., Oceanside Harbor had reached 95 degrees while Encinitas got to 92 and San Diego International Airport and Chula Vista were 91.

“It’s very unusual for temperatures to get that hot in the early morning,” said Liz Schenk, a weather service forecaster.

Santa Ana winds can produce really warm mornings. But they arrive from the Great Basin. Sunday’s winds blew in from the ocean.

Forecasters say it is possible that a Catalina eddy — a column of air that rotates in a counter-clockwise direction — steered the blocking winds ashore. It’s also possible that the change involved Javier, a tropical storm off Baja California that brought clouds and heavy surf to San Diego County on Sunday.

In many places locally, the temperature started to moderate or fall when the clouds spread across the region. But the county still experienced another day of record-breaking heat.

The 95 degrees logged in Oceanside Harbor was 5 degrees above the previous high for Sept. 4. The earlier high was recorded in 1961. Escondido got to 101, 1 degree above the record set in 1997. And Ramona hit 102, tying a record set in 2010.

Weather models predict Escondido, Ramona, Valley Center, Lakeside, Fallbrook, Poway, Santee, El Cajon, Barona and Rancho San Diego will be in the 100- to 105-degree range Monday through Thursday. San Marcos and Vista are expected to be in the upper 90s. And eastern San Diego is expected to be in the low 90s.

Much of the state is experiencing hot weather, which led the California Independent System Operator (ISO) on Sunday to ask consumers to reduce electricity consumption on Monday.

“We are facing a load forecast of 48,817 megawatts and energy deficits between 2,000 and 4,000 megawatts for Monday, resulting in the highest likelihood of rotating outages we have seen so far this summer,” Cal-ISO said in a statement.

“Because of the increasingly extreme conditions, we will need significant additional consumer demand reductions during the hours of 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Monday and access to all the emergency tools that the state and utilities have established for an extreme event like this one.”

Beaches up and down the coast were packed over the weekend. About 180,000 people flocked to San Diego beaches Saturday, resulting in a busy day for lifeguards, who were involved in 299 water rescues and one cliff rescue, San Diego Fire-Rescue Department officials said. Figures for Sunday were not immediately available.

The hot, dry weather made firefighters jump quickly — and with force — when brush fires popped up Sunday from Santee to Fallbrook.

Firefighters quickly put out an early morning vegetation fire in Santee that burned in thick brush in the riverbed of the San Diego River around 6:30 a.m., officials said.

A few water drops from a helicopter helped douse the blaze within about an hour.

A few hours later, San Diego firefighters responded to a brush fire near Interstate 5 in the Bay Ho neighborhood that sent smoke over the freeway and charred about one-quarter acre of vegetation.

It was not known what sparked the fire, which was reported around 12:20 p.m. on Santa Fe Street near Damon Avenue in a brushy area between I-5 and some buildings, said San Diego Fire-Rescue Battalion Chief Matt Nilsen.

The fire burned an area south of state Route 52 and north of Garnet Avenue in a riverbed. He said the fire was knocked down shortly after 1 p.m.

Officials sent two helicopters, four engines, two brush rigs and some support units to the blaze initially. A couple of additional brush rigs were requested to assist in the mop up, Nilsen said.

Because of the extended heat wave, fire officials are acting quickly to send plenty of resources to respond when fires are reported.

“We are definitely bumping things up quicker than we would to first-alarm fires,” Nilsen said. “There is a concern.”

Along with the oppressive heat, Mother Nature tossed in a little monsoonal moisture, with some areas seeing scattered rainshowers overnight. That was a welcomed development for firefighters.

“It was kind of wet out there. That has helped a lot with the fuels,” Nilsen said. “It dampened down what was supposed to be extreme conditions today.”

A third brush fire burned 30 acres in rural North County before aircraft dropped retardant and helped “box in” the blaze, a fire official said. That blaze was reported around 1:35 p.m. off Sandia Creek Road north of De Luz Road, in an unincorporated community north of Fallbrook. The flames took off at a moderate rate, up a rugged hillside, according to Cal Fire San Diego Capt. Thomas Shoots.

He initially said the fire was a “big concern” because of the heat and the dry, ready-to-burn brush in the area. The temperature there hit 92 degrees around the time the fire broke out, according to the National Weather Service.

Four planes that drop fire retardant and two water-dropping helicopters were sent to assist firefighters on the ground. Shoots said the retardant drops helped slow down the fire, which was 10 percent contained as of 4:40 p.m.

In rural East County, firefighters continued to build lines around a brush fire that burned about 4,400 acres last week near state Route 94 in the Barrett Junction area, east of Dulzura and west of Potrero.

The Border 32 fire was 90 percent contained as of Sunday evening, and the progress allowed strike teams from other parts of the state to return to their home base.

Eight firefighters have suffered minor, heat-related injuries since the fire started Wednesday, including three Saturday. Nearly 300 firefighters were expected to continue building containment lines and extinguishing hot spots overnight.

The heat “is just taking a toll” on firefighters, Shoots said.

As the temperatures baked the region, many residents dealt with power outages. According to San Diego Gas & Electric, thousands of people from De Luz in northern San Diego County to Chula Vista were without power for at least part of the day.

More than 4,700 customers in the Oceanside area were without electricity in the early afternoon, although their service appeared to be restored by 3 p.m. Several hundred people in La Jolla lost power mid-morning, and it was still out around 7 p.m. The online map identified the reason: “Weather affected SDG&E equipment.”

Staff writers David Hernandez and Kate Morrissey contributed to this report.