Scorching heat fried Southern California for a seventh straight day Monday, knocking out electricity to more than 24,000 customers and fanning three fires in northern Los Angeles County and the mountains near Big Bear Lake.
Labor Day vacationers swarmed local beaches to escape the late-summer heat spell that drove the mercury to 99 degrees in downtown Los Angeles and 111 in Woodland Hills.
But forecasters said cooler weather would arrive by midweek, taming furnace-like conditions that have made even walks in the park unbearable. Temperatures were expected to drop as much as 11 degrees today and even more Wednesday before adjusting to typical levels toward the end of the week.
"The big story is a big cool," said Stuart Seto of the National Weather Service in Oxnard. "Temperatures on Thursday will return to normal for this time of year in all areas."
Still, the prospect of lower temperatures provided no relief Monday to Paz Tejada, who was among the tenants of the Rayfield Apartments in MacArthur Park who have been without power since Sunday.
Tejada said her 2 1/2 -year-old daughter, unable to get comfortable in the family's apartment, cried through the night Sunday. And Tejada said her family lost about $240 in groceries that spoiled when her refrigerator stopped working.
"I don't have the money to replace what I lost," Tejada said through a translator. "I'm feeling really bad right now."
Building manager Olga Verde said tenants of the 75-unit complex inundated her with requests for help. So she improvised, stringing extension cords from the part of the building with power to the side that was dark. Even then, she issued a warning to tenants, many of them elderly or families with young children.
"I told them they could only use it for TV or the refrigerator," she said. "If they put on the AC, it would probably blow the whole place."
The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power said that 4,300 customers were without power Monday, the result of overloaded transformers or blown wiring in 125 neighborhoods.
Forty crews, working 16-hour shifts, fanned out across the city to repair power equipment, including at the Rayfield Apartments, where workers were trying Monday to determine the cause of the electrical failure.
"We don't have any large-area outages now," DWP spokesman Joe Ramallo said.
DWP officials said crews had made significant progress since Sunday night, when 13,000 customers were without electricity, but that localized outages could continue into today.
On Mulholland Drive, power worker Louie Aguilar was replacing a feeder line that had blown, one of many emergency repairs he made on his shift that began at 7 a.m. Monday and continued until 11 p.m.
"The cable gets too hot," Aguilar explained. So it blew, plunging hundreds of San Fernando Valley houses into darkness for a few hours. "These cables are good for 50 or 60 years," he said.
"But we have new construction going up all of the time, and more load and more and more demand. We're switching out lines and transformers as fast as we can."
Aguilar was wearing a blue long-sleeved work shirt emblazoned with the name "Richard." It belonged to a colleague riding with the DWP convoy. Aguilar, taking a break in the shade of his truck during his fifth straight day on the job, said simply: "I ran out of shirts."
Power use among Los Angeles' 1.4 million customers peaked at 5,737 megawatts shortly after 2 p.m., and use by the 13 million Southern California Edison customers peaked at 22,081 megawatts -- both setting records for Labor Day, the utilities reported.
"This is extreme demand," said the DWP's Ramallo.
Vanessa McGrady, an Edison spokeswoman, pleaded for customers to conserve energy to help prevent blackouts and other problems.
"Even if people do little things like give their appliances the afternoon off, or wait until the evening hours to use power tools, that can help keep up our power reserves," she said.
"The less power people are using, the easier it is on the equipment."
Outages struck sporadically Monday throughout the region.
Southern California Edison officials said that 18,000 customers were without power, down from more than 21,000 Sunday night. The outages affected customers in communities including Simi Valley, Long Beach, Lakewood, Carson, Downey, Hacienda Heights, Corona, Ontario, Upland, San Clemente, Mission Viejo, Coto de Caza, Laguna Hills, Laguna Niguel and Mission Viejo.
Officials said the high demand had stressed power equipment beyond capacity and that lightning and a tornado Sunday in the community of Rosamond, near Lancaster, had contributed to the trouble.
McGrady could not say when electricity would be restored but added that crews were targeting customers who had gone without it the longest.
"We're very sympathetic to people who have their power out," McGrady said. "We're working as hard as we can."
As crews toiled to restore power in neighborhoods, about 500 firefighters waged their own campaign to control three blazes fueled by wind and intense heat.