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Heat Wave Continues in LA, State Probes Deaths

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LOS ANGELES (AP) Temperatures surged around the state Saturday as Southern California continued its rare high-humidity heat wave and state officials investigated a rash of recent farm worker deaths believed tied to the weather.

With a sultry, unstable airmass refusing to budge, forecasters predicted close to record temperatures and no break from the heat until Monday. Sunday is expected to be slightly cooler.

No record highs were reported but the mercury topped out at 104 degrees in Woodland Hills and 102 in Pomona. Triple-digit temperatures were the norm across the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys and in desert areas.

Southern California Edison said about 3,700 customers briefly lost power because of heat-related outages. Most of the outages occurred in the areas of Corona, Santa Clarita, Upland, Norco and Manhattan Beach.

The unstable conditions have not yet led to brush fires like earlier in the week.

One of those, a 503-acre wildfire near Temecula, was pronounced fully contained Saturday morning, Riverside County fire officials said.

Another, a 647-acre blaze near Hemet, was 50 percent surrounded, they said.

A lightning-sparked grass fire in a rural area of Kern County near Bodfish was 80 percent contained after consuming 560 acres.

A brush fire near the ranch once owned by Ronald Reagan was knocked down after burning 10 acres and sending thick smoke over mountains north of Santa Barbara.

State occupational safety officials are already investigating five worker deaths since June as possibly heat-related.

Two employees _ a farm worker in Kern County and construction worker in San Bernardino County _ died Wednesday, as legislators were meeting in Sacramento to review the state’s heat protection regulations.

Cal-OSHA spokeswoman Erika Monterroza said her Division of Occupational Safety and Health is reviewing whether loading heavy boxes of table grapes in 95 degree heat led to the death Wednesday of 54-year-old Rodolfo Ceballos Carrillo in Arvin.

It also is investigating the deaths of a 49-year-old Tulare County plum picker who died June 11; a 33-year-old farmworker who died June 29 in Indio, and a 57-year-old farm mechanic who died July 12 in Firebaugh.

Current rules let farm workers take short breaks and require that employers provide drinking water and shade.

However, United Farm Workers National Vice President Armando Elenes said some workers hesitate to ask for breaks because they might lose money or appear unfit. Many of the workers are paid based on the number of boxes they load or how much produce they harvest.

Legislators are considering if the state should make breaks mandatory in hot weather.

Monterroza said her agency has found 316 heat regulation violations while checking about 1,340 work sites this year. Cal-OSHA shut down five companies, but let them reopen after they fixed problems.

The searing, wild weather is due to a circulating high-pressure system that moved in from the Midwest and is pulling moisture up from the Gulf of Mexico, Hoffer said.

The pattern will start to ease next week, bringing cooler weather along with a return of thicker night and morning low clouds, he said.

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