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As if residents weren’t already trying to stay home to combat the spread of a growing pandemic, Morgan Hill has had to contend with record-breaking summer temperatures and deteriorating air quality from numerous wildfires throughout the region over the last week.

The National Weather Service since last Friday has issued excessive heat warnings every day in the Bay Area and beyond. Those advisories are likely to continue through this weekend.

NWS Meteorologist Jeffrey Lorber said Aug. 18 that while Tuesday’s forecasted high temperature of 104 in Morgan Hill reaches somewhat of a peak of the current heat wave, temperatures will drop only to the mid- to upper-90s Thursday and Friday. By Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 22 and 23, temperatures will rise again to the upper-90s.

“We will probably have heat warnings throughout the week,” Lorber said.

The weather will remain dry, with mostly clear skies through the weekend, Lorber said.

The beginning of the current heat wave also featured a series of thunderstorms throughout the Bay Area, with lightning strikes resulting in scattered wildfires. This has prompted the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to issue an air quality advisory through Aug. 18.

“If the smell of smoke is present, it is important that Bay Area residents protect their health by avoiding exposure,” reads the advisory on the BAAQMD website. “If possible, stay inside with windows and doors closed until smoke levels subside, if temperatures allow. It is also recommended that those impacted by smoke set their air conditioning units and car vent systems to re-circulate to prevent outside air from moving inside.”

The closest of the current wildfires is the River Fire, south of Salinas. That blaze has burned more than 4,000 acres and is about 10 percent contained, according to CalFire officials.

CalFire is also battling a series of blazes throughout the Bay Area that have collectively burned about 25,000 acres. These fires are known as the “SCU Lightning Complex Fire,” and have burned in a number of locations in Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa, San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties. The fires were sparked by lightning strikes from last weekend’s storms.

Temperatures broke records in South County over the weekend. The NWS recorded a high temperature of 115 degrees in Gilroy, beating the previous record of 107 a year ago. South County hit 108 degrees on Aug. 15, four degrees higher than the previous record in 2019. 

Other weather sources pegged the high temperature in Morgan Hill at 111 degrees on Aug. 16.

The NWS also issued a Red Flag Warning in response to the thunderstorms and lightning strikes.

The cities of Morgan Hill and Gilroy, as well as Santa Clara County, opened public buildings as cooling centers, despite ongoing restrictions on social distancing related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Some neighborhoods in South County were hit by “rotating blackouts” enacted by PG&E in an effort to relieve stress on the electricity grid.

The Gilroy Library, 350 West Sixth St., is open as a cooling center through Wednesday from 1-5pm. Santa Clara County authorities reminded residents that Covid-19 social distancing guidelines apply even inside the cooling centers.

The lobby of the Morgan Hill Centennial Recreation Center, 171 West Edmundson Ave., is also open as a cooling center during the current heat wave.

In a press release, county officials said due to the potential for heat related illnesses such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke, residents are encouraged to take precautionary measures including:

• Drinking plenty of fluids with electrolytes and staying out of the sun and in air conditioning, when possible.

• Ensuring young children and pets are never left in vehicles under any circumstance. This is especially true during warm or hot weather when car interiors can reach lethal temperatures within minutes.

• Assisting others on the street who may be having a severe reaction to the heat, by calling 911.

• Checking on a vulnerable person without air conditioning, such as an older adult or infirm neighbor, someone with a drug or alcohol disorder or severe mental illness, via phone or email and ensuring that they are staying cool and safe.

The county public health department also reminded residents to take the following Covid-19 precautions at the cooling centers:

• Do not enter if you have Covid-19 symptoms including fever, cough, diarrhea, headache, muscle aches, shortness of breath, unexplained loss of taste or smell

• Face covering is required (exception of children 6 years and under or if medically inadvisable).

• Maintain a minimum distance of six feet from others at all times.

The state’s electric grid operator, the California Independent System Operator, issued a Flex Alert through Aug. 19. Customers statewide are asked to conserve energy between 3-10pm each day.

Erik Chalhoub contributed reporting. 

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Michael Moore is an award-winning journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor for the Morgan Hill Times, Hollister Free Lance and Gilroy Dispatch since 2008. During that time, he has covered crime, breaking news, local government, education, entertainment and more.

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